On July 28th, 2016, the sweet smell of the lake filled my nose while the warm breeze moved my hair back and forth. The whole family met at the lake to celebrate my cousin’s birthday. This particular day marked Sage’s tenth birthday, matching the age of her brother Gavin. Gavin and Sage lived at the lake with their mom, my Aunt Annie. While cleaning up for my cousin’s party the day before, my aunt hit her foot on a resin rocking chair, forming a hematoma on the top of her foot. Having previous experience as a medical tech, she believed she could take care of this herself by keeping her foot rested, iced, elevated, and compressed. She also expressed feeling extremely fatigued, but pushed it aside to the fact she took care of her two crazy children and all the neighborhood kids. My mom, however, noticed something else off with my aunt this day: “I’m worried about Ann. Her eyes have a yellow tint to them which can be a sign of liver failure.”
I replied to her asking, “What could happen if it really is?”
I then received a dreaded response: “It can be deadly.” My mom and I never spoke about that moment again. This marked the summer before my sophomore year of high school, the last summer spent with Aunt Annie.
On August 1st, 2016, and my aunt was at Community Health Center in Coldwater, Michigan. After multiple days of nursing her hematoma on her own, she figured it would not improve without the advice of a doctor. The doctors sent her home with nothing but the message that it would eventually heal on its own.
On August 8st, 2016, and my aunt was taken to the emergency room of Community Health Center in Coldwater, Michigan. Her eyes and skin were severely yellowed; she grew extremely fatigued, and she experienced abdominal bloating on top of nausea. After days of testing, they diagnosed Annie with acute liver failure. I remember the moment my mom called me, thinking back to my mother and my conversation just a short time back at the lake house: “It could be deadly.” This new information spun around my head like a tornado.
On August 12th, 2016, and my aunt was transferred to Borgess Medical Center in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Throughout the next week, the doctors worked to level out her liver functions and informed Annie that she went into acute liver failure as a result of autoimmune hepatitis. This is when the immune system attacks liver cells, causing the liver to swell. Hematomas continued to spread across my aunt’s body like a wildfire jumping from tree to tree.
On August 19th, 2016, and my aunt was back at the lake house with high hopes of being a viable candidate for a new liver. Hearing this news ignited a little speck of hope that we would all make it out of this bumpy journey alive. This was all, however, false hope. ¬At the time, nobody knew that this night would be filled with so many lasts. Annie slept restlessly with severe pain, and by early morning she couldn’t bare to walk.
On August 20th, 2016, and my aunt was back at Community Health Center’s emergency room in Coldwater, Michigan, where they immediately transported her back to Borgess Medial Center in Kalamazoo, Michigan. After a quick evaluation, they chose to send her to University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The doctors began working on getting her stabilized once again and putting her on a liver transplant list. All the nurses loved her because of her charisma and optimistic personality.
On August 24th, 2016, and my mom went to hospital to stay with my Aunt Annie. I received a phone call from my mom, and the words she spoke to me made my heart freeze: “Annie isn’t doing very well. Her kidney functions are beginning to decline as a side affect of the liver failure. If you want to visit her, then now would be the time. I know that you have so many great moments with Annie, and if you don’t want the image of her in the hospital like this to be your last, then you don’t have to.” As my world came to a screeching halt, I immediately answered her question: “No, I don’t want to come” and hung up. As I began to think about it, I couldn’t even recall the last words that I said to my aunt; I couldn’t even remember our last moment together. ‘Did I tell her that I loved her?’ ‘Did I give her a hug before leaving?’ ‘Did I make sure that she knew she was the best aunt that a little girl could ask for?’ I couldn’t remember.
On August 25th 2016, and I can’t stay at home. I called my mom after a night filled with silent sobs and no sleep, and I told her, “I want to come. I want to see Annie today.” My dad and I made the drive up to the hospital where my mom trudged us up to my aunt’s icy room. My emotions were like a storm. A cloud of dread and fear followed us down the hallway, threatening to crash down on me. At first I was speechless. She lay in a small room, her bed much too short for her body. She looked miserable with her feet cramped up against the white, bottom railing, pressing against the multiple hematomas that lined her feet. Her eyebrows furrowed as her head moved from side to side in response to the agony. Sometimes her eyes would open, but it was easy to see that she wasn’t actually looking at anything; they were unfocused and dazed. My mom told me to remain quiet because my aunt fell in and out of sleep. She lay the most comfortable when she slept, and we wouldn’t want to wake her. Nothing but the sound of the monitor filled the room: beep, beep, beep. I managed staying quiet until I began to think about how this was all that was left of my aunt Annie. All of her sparkling smiles, sarcastic jokes, and affectionate hugs disappeared before my eyes. She was all used up; the well was dry. I couldn’t hold it in; every time that I gathered myself, I took another look at my aunt and broke down again. Her once flawless skin became jaundice; a layer of yellowed glass covered her once twinkling eyes, and the smell of death replaced her beautiful perfume. It still looked like her, though. It was still my Aunt Annie. All I wanted to do at the time was talk to her, talk to her about anything, but at the time she was incapable of this simple task. My mom and I left the room to get some water, and when we returned, my dad told me that she looked at him and whispered, “Hi, Uncle Jay.” When he told me this, I swarmed with jealousy. I was jealous that she was able to say those simple words to acknowledge my father but not me. To this day I wish I had been involved in that moment just to hear her soothing voice one last time.
Within the next hour, some of my aunt’s old friends visited, people I knew but hadn’t seen in years. Each person walked in, cried, and then said good-bye. They would clutch her hand and talk of all the great times they shared with my aunt. Then they would leave, knowing this would be the last time they would ever see her. I watched this process multiple times. My mom stood by me as I said good-bye. She held my hand, and I grasped my aunt’s hand. I couldn’t utter a word because nothing could express what I wanted my aunt to hear the last time I talked to her, so my mom spoke for me. She told my aunt about how she brought light into our lives through her witty, sarcastic personality, and great advice. A smile could be found on the face of anyone near her. She talked of how admirable of an aunt she was, for having the ability to fill the hole that would be missing in my heart. I glanced at my aunt one more time, and then my dad and I left the room.
On August 27th, 2016, and my aunt is moved from the Critical Care Unit to the Hospice Unit. The doctors revealed that there was no hope and that her time would come soon. This day I decided that I wanted to see my aunt again. I wanted to see her as many times as possible before she escaped this earth forever. The environment of this new room was quiet and comfortable. My grandma sat in the room with us this time, and she looked exhausted. Dark circles sunk into the skin under her eyes, which were red from shed tears. Never should a mother have to live through her own child’s death. My aunt rested more peaceful now. The doctors did nothing more to keep her alive; they gave her medicine only to help with the pain. She lay there as still as a rock: however, she breathed in and out heavily. Her lips were chapped from the fact that she couldn’t wet them with her own tongue or take a drink water. The skin hardened and peeled off her lips, and with each breath, the skin moved: in and out, in and out. I sat there as hours passed by, just watching her breathe, comforted by the fact that I knew that she was still alive. Everyone left the room except for my mother and father when it came for me to leave, so I would have another chance to say good-bye. I didn’t want it to be my last good-bye, but deep down I knew it was. My throat was sandpaper, but I found my voice. I grabbed her pale hand once more and told her, “I love you so much. I don’t want you to leave. You’ve always been such a great aunt, and I’m not ready to live on this world without you.” I’ll never forget the moment after I spoke these words. My aunt’s lips parted just enough for her to make a little whimpering noise, and her eyes opened a slit. I knew this meant that she heard me, and she was saying her own good-bye. The second I took a step through the doorway, a piece of my heart was ripped out. It will stay in that room forever.
On August 29th, 2016, my aunt was gone. On this day, my aunt joined her dad in heaven. On earth she abandoned a ten- and eleven-year-old, a grieving mother, a big brother. and two older sisters who took care of her when she was growing up, six heartbroken nieces and nephews, and a countless number of friends. However, each one of these people was blessed with memories of Annie. From strolling along the sand by the lake to lighting the bonfire, my aunt could always be found. She was the go-to griller and would always provide the best advice for any problem. Within the span of a month, I lost this person. She was there, and then she wasn’t.