My mother’s sister passed away in November just shy of her 60th birthday. I wasn’t nearly as close with her as I was with my Aunt Lee. She was born in January 1955 when my Grandmother was 36, five years after her previous child. There’s no way to know this for sure but I suspect the pregnancy wasn’t planned. She was born in an era where she was labeled “slow” or worse “retarded”. She was developmentally delayed. I wonder if she had been evaluated by today’s standards, if she would have fallen on the autism spectrum. Regardless, she grew up with many challenges.
Karen was the youngest of 6 children. She grew up being spoiled & having family do things for her & speak for her. In spite of this, she became determined to do things on her own. She was eventually able to attend a vocational school & learn skills that enabled her to secure a job in a factory. This also enabled her to move out on her own & live independently in her own apartment.
I don’t have many memories of her when I was young. She was 19 when I was born & not long after getting out on her own, she became involved with a man. Not a good man, an abusive man. She became estranged from our family during this time. As happens in abusive relationships, he isolated her. I can only imagine what life was like for her during that time.
Another Aunt, her sister, was married in 1982 (I think). I was a flower girl in that wedding. Karen attended & I remember going to her apartment. I didn’t know it at the time but her boyfriend was in jail then. I remember her being very proud of me & I remember her telling me about her boyfriend, who painted, & saying she wanted him to meet me. Another memory was a few years later, we “kidnapped” Karen so she could visit with my Grandma & Great-Grandma who were visiting. I wonder how she managed after going home to this man that day, if she’d told him where she’d been, if he’d found out on her own…
Her boyfriend died a few years later & she became a more constant presence. My dad would pick her up in Toronto & she would come stay weekends with us. I remember her being fun, always up to play games or put puzzles together. She loved her soap operas & it was with her I first watched Dallas & she filled me in on all the details.
In 1994, she was introduced to a man & they fell in love. You can imagine, with her past, my family was skeptical. But he was (is) a good man. Yes, he has issues of his own, schizophrenia, but he is kind & loving & the knight in shining she deserved! They were married. I got to be her Maid of Honour! They celebrated their 20th anniversary a few weeks before she died.
With all the challenges Karen faced in her life, she certainly was determined & proud. I admire her not passively letting life pass by. All she ever wanted was to be “normal” & she certainly succeeded in getting everything she ever wanted…except one thing. She had always desperately wanted to be a mother. She loved children so much & was so good with all of us nieces & nephews. To the day she died, it was her biggest regret. I remember having a conversation with her while I was pregnant & me saying she’d done so well in her life & she’d done one better than me, at least she’d gotten married & her reply, “Yeah, but I didn’t get to be a mother.”
In late 2012 she was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer with a tumour on her brain & mets in her liver & lungs. The doctors weren’t optimistic. She had radiation on the brain tumour in November that year & endured round after round of chemo for the next 2 years. There was no other option in her mind. She believed it would cure her. She didn’t understand or accept that she was palliative. I wonder if that contributed to her surviving for so long, that won’t quit attitude. Almost exactly 2 years later the doctors broke the news that they just couldn’t continue giving her chemo. To her that translated to them giving up on her, she just didn’t understand.
She remained at home for as long as she could but due to a fall she ended up in hospital & then transferred to hospice. Her life ended much like it began, with people doing everything for her.
Even though we weren’t close, I am feeling this loss heavily. It brought up dormant feelings of what I went through this past winter. Also her death has continued a disturbing emerging family tradition of passing just prior to a milestone birthday. My Uncle, my Dad & now Karen all passed within months prior to their 60th birthday. My Auntie Margaret & Aunt Lee both passed just prior to their 70th birthday. It’s been a tough year.