Sunday, 10 November 2019

You are my aunt. Am I? Are you sure? What else am I?

I am sitting up in bed in Trumbull, Connecticut, America.  It is early, I am watching for the dawn through the windows, and I have been down to my aunt's kitchen with my mobile phone torch in the darkness to make a pot of tea.  I do not want to wake my aunt because she will not remember who I am nor why I am making tea in her kitchen in the darkness.  And she sleeps next to the kitchen with her door open.  But I am quiet, and successful, and with tea, the winter sky lightening and my laptop, I am ready.  It is after six, and if I were in Bognor it would be nearly midday.

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
I am not sentimental.  I never have been, I can't see the point of it.  I like to get to the heart of things and not get overwhelmed by feelings so that I can be the best I can be in any situation.  So being here in my Aunt's home, all the way over in America, when she has no idea who I am, is powerful.  I love my aunt, everyone does, she is one of those gentle, loving and strong women who form the backbone of our families.  I do not know much about her day to day life, and I have not see her much in my lifetime, but I know who she is and I know her parents, her children, her brother and sister.  I even met her grandmother.  I know where she comes from and I know the stories of her childhood because she and my father and their older sister are a tight unit and have been together all their lives.  My father's oldest sister says that she has always felt responsible for the other two.  She feels that very strongly, especially now that they are in their late eighties and early nineties, and two of the siblings are struggling with memory loss, dementia and Alzheimer's.  My father's oldest sister is as bright and sharp as she has ever been, it is hard for her to see her siblings struggle.  My father does know who his sisters are, he knows who my brothers and I are, but he does not know where he is or what is going on.  He is unable to walk, feed himself or even sit up.  He cannot initiate a conversation, and cannot remember how to respond with words.  But he is still in there, when we visit him we can see that he is still there and his smile is the same as it ever was.  Recently he asked me if I had ever met his wife.  Yes, I said, I knew her well, she was my mother.  He looked impressed.

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
So back to this aunt, who I can hear moving around downstairs.  She is feeding her cat, and I was told by my cousin last night that she will go back to bed again for a while after feeding him.  Soon I will go down and tell her that I am staying with her, and that her brother is my father.  I will hold her hand, and she will talk about things she remembers, and will stop from time to time to make sure I am comfortable, happy, fed and have everything that I need.  Even though she won't remember what I am in her house for, she is looking after me.  How lovely.  She has snowy white hair and big blue eyes.  She has kind warm hands and her house is full of old family photographs I have not seen before, and pictures and letters from her grandchildren, now grown up and away at college.  My cousins will come over and we will all spend the day together.  We will call her older sister in England, and I will video my aunt sending messages to my father and to her sister.  Then when I go back to England, I will take this time with our most treasured aunt and relay it to her sister and brother.  Then knowing me, I will plan another visit and come back.

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.


  1. Absolutely beautiful and adorable. Full of love and gentle humour
    Well done Antonia what perfect mission of discovery ♥️🙏