I am staying with my father's older sister. Long before I was born, my father's sister moved to America to ease a broken heart. She married here, had two daughters, and stayed. My aunt is nearly ninety now, and has the same condition as my father, though she is in the earlier stages. My cousins have arranged for me to come and see her and now, in her house, surrounded by evidence of her long life and the family we have in common, I can't believe I am so lucky to be here, and to have this family. I am especially grateful to have this time with my precious aunt, who is gracious and kind and has no idea who I am or why I am here.
|Lunch with my cousin's husband, Vladimir|
After my cousins left yesterday afternoon, my aunt and I held hands and looked at all the photos she had on the walls. She was surprised that I knew who they were. From time to time I said, do you know that your brother is my father? Each time she was absolutely amazed. No! She said, that means you are my sister! I told her she was my aunt, and that we are family, and each time she was astonished. You will have to call me Aunt, she said, laughing. I have called her Aunt all my life, but she has forgotten. Because she does not know who I am, I hold her hand to show her she is safe. We read stories of her life that her older sister has written and sent to her, and she is delighted with the memories.
|My amazing cousin Vicky, wife of Vlad|
My cousins here are amazing women. They take care of my aunt with all the patience and determination that they can. My father is looked after in a specialist nursing home, and my brothers and I do not have to do anything but visit him. My aunt here is cared for by her daughters, grandchildren and son in law. But in each moment my aunt is alone, she is confused and forgetful, and cannot remember that her family has been with her that day.
I love my cousins. I have two cousins from my aunt here, and we have always been friends. They have been my confidants and co conspirators in life from early childhood, despite not seeing each other often. My oldest aunt's son lives nearby too, and over the years he and his family have become my most wonderful friends, and I am staying with this excellent cousin too. It is good that my father and his two beloved sisters have families that are close too.
|An attempted kiss not a|
Soon, my aunt may remember who I am and sigh, Oh not again. She's not my sister, but she is very familiar. She keeps making tea in the middle of the night in the dark. Strange woman, that. From the UK, you know. She needs some looking after.
Post script. My aunt just opened the door and walked into my room. I didn't know how many people were staying in my house, she said, or where they were. I told her my name and that she was my aunt and she looked at me with recognition and said - yes, I remember you as a little girl. So YOU are Antonia. With that, we went downstairs to have some breakfast. (This isn't my house, she said on the way down, it belongs to some man. I think he's my uncle.)
|Our most precious Aunt.|