She was smaller than I remembered, shrunken in upon herself. Her hair, which had always been neatly coiffed was cropped short and a little tousled. It had only been two years since I had seen her but it was as if she had aged twenty years in that time. It was that rapid aging, I think, that slapped me the hardest with the obvious truth. It's one thing to know intellectually of someones illness, it's quite another to witness it firsthand. My aunt is dying. She's dying and there's nothing to be done but watch. Nothing to do but wait and make small talk. Nothing and that's the hardest part to wrap my head around, because I'm a do-er, a fighter. It's excruciating, the passive waiting, the watching, but it's not my call how this ends. I am "but a poor player that struts and frets", and I only have a walk-on part in this particular tragedy.
She could only handle short visits, so the hubman and I left to let her take a nap before dinner. We headed to the woods near where I had lived, a park called Chestnut Ridge. My mother's parents had their ashes scattered there, so in a sense, I was visiting my grandparents, but also like them, I find solace and refuge more readily in nature than in a church. I went there to cry, to have it out with myself before I had to appear again at dinner time, with an outwardly happy appearance. I thought a lot about the past; of the years we did live closer, of the family rift that seems to only deepen with time, of our imminent mortality and what we leave behind, each of us, as a legacy to those we loved.
Did I have an epiphany and go back to shed the light of my enlightenment upon those less fortunate? God, no. What light does anyone really want shed upon their personal time of grief? I walked under the ancient and gnarled apple trees in the park, collecting their freshly fallen offering. I cried as the grief came to me in waves and leaned on the strong shoulder of my beloved. I took strength from nature's cyclical immortality, and knew the blessing it is just to be alive. I gathered myself enough to go back calm and serene, and to not cast the burden of my grief upon already weighted shoulders.
There was a moment when we parted that evening; I held her face in my hands. I smiled at her with all the love I could not articulate. We embraced for a long moment, and said goodbye.