My Aunt, A Source of Strength


In September of '93, I found out that a very close aunt had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Since then my life has never been the same. Our relationship was very special. She was my daytime caregiver until the age of eleven. In those eleven years, we became very close. She was a second mother to me. In fact, when the time came me to go to a different school, the transition was very difficult, but I adjusted. She still watched me during the summer.

As I grew older and I was able to stay home by myself during the summers, she would come over to my house to go swimming and spend the day with me. Our relationship continued to grow.

I was 14 yrs old when I learned of my Aunt having cancer. I will never forget the day I learned of her condition and the fact that her cancer wasn't curable. I cried the entire night in the private sanctity of my bedroom. I didn't know how to deal with all my emotions and I was not comfortable with expressing my feelings to anyone. In the following 3 months, I had numerous chances to visit my aunt but I chose not to. Each time the opportunity presented itself. I found myself making up excuses. I knew I had a fear about seeing her but I wasn't able to identify the reason for the fear. Thinking back now, I suppose it was the awkwardness in seeing her for the first time after her diagnosis. I didn't know what to say, especially since I knew her condition was terminal.

It wasn't until my B-day party, in December, when I saw her for the first time after her diagnosis. She had lost quite a bit of weight, but acted like the same who I knew and loved. I'm not sure why I was so surprised. She came over to me immediately and embraced me. We sat down and started talking. That night, after the party, was a very sad, depressing time for me. I believe it was at that time when I first started to experience the symptoms of depression. At that point I didn't believe I was experiencing anything abnormal. But the symptoms were persistent and they did intensify with time. The symptoms included an increase in the need to sleep, loss of appetite, high anxiety, inability to concentrate, low energy, and feelings of hopelessness.

I joined a support group at my high school for students who were dealing with terminally ill relatives. The group seemed to help me a lot. But as the months went on, my symptoms worsened. I had frequent thoughts of death and I felt worthless. I didn't understand myself anymore. I was confused about my feelings and the why behind them. I never had to deal with such strong negative emotions in my entire life.

The visits to see my aunt were few and far between. I went to visit her only four times in four months. The last visit to see her was during the first week of April. She was bedridden and her weight loss was dramatic. That visit was extremely difficult. I did not allow myself to show any emotions. I had been successful in not allowing anyone to see me cry and I was determined to keep it that way. As I left, I gave my aunt a hug and kiss. She held on just a little bit longer and before she let go, she said " I love you Val." It was that night when I experienced my first panic attack. I had finally realized what I chose to truly not believe for the past six months. My aunt was going to die and her death would be coming soon.

I decided to write a letter to her to let her know my feelings. I never have had to do such a hard thing before. I had never told her how I felt about her and I knew that time was running out. I wrote the letter to her explaining how much she meant to me and the love I felt for her. She received the letter on April 15th. She was not able to read the letter herself, but her daughter in law called me to let me know that the letter had been received and that my aunt had heard what I had written. Two days later on April 17, 1994 at 7:10am she passed away. I cried all day. The funeral was very hard for me. I was in such great pain but wouldn't allow myself to cry in the presence of anyone. I ran to the bathroom so many times in those two days at the funeral home. I pretty much sat in a chair at the funeral home and stared at her in the casket. I was shocked at the reality of this happening.

The month after her death is a complete blur to me. My emotions were overwhelming and the symptoms I mentioned earlier were building with intensity. Everyday I woke up those feelings were there waiting for me. My stomach was always in knots. I couldn't concentrate on school and I was withdrawing even further from my family and friends. The only thing I looked forward to each day was returning to my room so that I could withdraw from everything around me. I became self-destructive. I would cut my arms and hands with anything that was near. It was a way for me to relieve the tension that was building within me. I confided in my guidance counselor at school. I had developed a close relationship with her. She was always there to listen to me. The result of my confiding was a phone call home to my mother. My mother was shocked. While I had a good relationship with my mother, I had been successful in hiding everything from her. I had an appointment with a psychotherapist the following week.

I was very lucky to have the support of my friends and family once my problem was recognized, They were the ones that kept me going. I don't know where I would be if I hadn't had there support.

This experience has had a major effect on me. I feel that I somehow missed those "carefree high school day". Instead of going out and having fun, I was reading all the self-help books I could find. But there is a positive side, I feel that I am a much stronger person.


You can send email to Valerie at: [email protected]
mail welcome

anniversary date 04-17-94
date of post 08-10-97

[return to home page] [column] [book excerpts] [honor page] [discussions page]

Crisis, Grief, and Healing: Tom Golden LCSW