Losing My Favorite Aunt

***My aunt passed away almost a year ago in September. I wrote about my love for her, but did not publish it at the time. I hadn’t reconciled with her dementia yet. Today she gets her tribute.***

I am heartbroken. My Favorite Aunt, Jackie, passed away over the weekend. I was her Favorite Niece Amy, not to be confused with her favorite niece, Amy.

We used these titles for one another for as long as I can remember.

I have many aunts, and I love them all very much, but Jackie was my favorite because she hugged me best. She hugged like life depended on it. She was soft and squishy and put her whole body into hugging me, lingering just long enough and squeezing just tight enough to really nestle into her arms. Then she would lay a big old kiss or two on my cheek. Her affection left the delicious smell of her perfume on my shirt and skin as a constant reminder of how much she loved me, or anyone she hugged.

Jackie had a keen sense of humor. She had one word punchlines and comebacks for days. She was quick and clever with her words, logical and precise in her opinions, and she definitely had opinions. She was the founder and CEO of the Bitching and Complaining Club, but I took it as a lesson in minding my own business while secretly relishing in the unrepeatable bits of gossip she dropped here and there.

Though boisterous and fun, Jackie took it upon herself to make sure all us kids were decent and respectful. Every single one of my cousins has a good Jackie and the Wooden Spoon story. I’m not sure she ever actually whacked any of us with it, though. She would chase us a little, then make us sit down and pout it out for awhile. A few minutes later it would be over and we’d get our fill of those squishy hugs and scented kisses.

Jackie had Alzheimer’s Disease. I hate that word – Alzheimer’s. As an adult raising young children during the height of her demise, I did not spend time with her in her last years. It’s easy enough to say I’m glad I didn’t see her “like that,” or that I should have made a greater effort to see her no matter what, but I recognize that there can be no perfect scenarios with Alzheimer’s Disease.

I saw Jackie a couple of times in more recent years, both pre- and post-dementia diagnosis. I slept the night on her couch once, and she fed me kuchen and soy milk for breakfast at her round wooden table with quilted placemats. We talked for hours. She showed me how her Roomba worked. As I was about to leave, she pulled out three very old handmade quilts and gave them to me to share with my sister. I kept two of them and they are the only earthly things I have to remember her.

The very last time I saw Aunt Jackie, she was living in a special home for dementia patients. She recognized me immediately and held out her arms for a hug. Her perfume had changed, but she smiled her biggest smiles and was bubbly and sweet to my kids, transporting me back to when she doted on little me 30 years ago. She said just enough strange things to remind me that she wasn’t the same person anymore, and while dementia had a pretty good grip on her mind by then, it hadn’t destroyed her personality at all.

I often wonder when was the last time she remembered me. It’s an unanswerable question, but I hope it was a good thought, and I hope she was proud of me. I was lucky to have her.


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