87: Auntie Beast

87: Auntie Beast

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grieving and Recovery

Auntie Beast

There are things that we don’t want to happen but have to accept, things we don’t want to know but have to learn, and people we can’t live without but have to let go.

~Author Unknown

Aunt Janice was the kind of person who melted your heart with her smile, who warmed your entire being with her presence, who touched your soul when you thought nobody else could even get close. Her laughter was the kind that bubbled up, the contagious kind, a deep down, from the gut kind of laugh. She smelled of sweet flowers and something else, something I could never quite identify, but it smelled beautiful nonetheless. Something that I smelled every time she would reach down and whisper in my ear, secrets spent in soft, breathy undertones that were meant just for me. With her golden mane of hair and emerald eyes that dared anyone to mess with her, she was dazzling, understated, the epitome of beauty. How ironic it is, I think, years later, that I spent the entirety of my life calling her “Auntie Beast.”

Auntie Beast was my father’s youngest sister, the youngest of five children, the beloved aunt of ten nieces and nephews. It hardly matters now where the name Beast came from. What’s important is that it was, that it still is, an affectionate nickname that reverberates throughout our family constantly. We talk about Auntie Beast’s collectables, her outlandish outfits, and her crazy, cat-lady tendencies. We talk about her loves, her desires, her wishes, her dreams. And sometimes we talk about what she would have been like if she were still alive today.

When I was in grade ten, I learned that Aunt Beast was sick, and that she had been for some time. Not the kind of sick that I knew, not a cold or the flu or an upset stomach. Aunt Beast was depressed. I was 15, a hormonal teenager, and I didn’t understand. Okay, she was depressed. So what? I got a 65 on my math test and had a huge fight with my best friend. I was depressed, too. After all, that’s what my parents meant, wasn’t it?

“Aunt Janice is sick. She has depression.”

“Yeah,” I thought. “Welcome to the club.”

For two years I downplayed my aunt’s illness, not to her or to anyone else in my family, but to myself. Surely, since I was younger, and I could pick myself up in tough times and move on with my life, couldn’t everybody? Every time I saw Aunt Beast, she never looked sick, never acted sick, always profoundly expressed her love for me and constantly confirmed, despite my attempts to get her to confess otherwise, that there was nothing wrong with her.

“How are you, Aunt Beast?”

“Oh, I’m fine, sweetheart.”

“Fine? Are you sure?”

“Oh, yes. I’m as Frazzled, Insecure, Neurotic, and Emotional as they come. I’m FINE.”

The two of us laughed at her clever acronym, dismissing it as we always did, because by then I was used to her version of contentment, as puzzling as it could be. I left it alone then, because if she said she was okay, then I figured that she must be okay. She was always smiling and laughing and telling me that she loved me. Her definition of the word “fine” never fazed me. I was so much in denial that I always looked at the whole, the “fine” Aunt Beast, instead of taking apart the pieces and seeing what was really there.

I never got the chance to really look at those pieces of her soul. Auntie Beast died in November of my senior year of high school, at her home by the lake. She had committed suicide.

The days following her death were a blur. I know I was in shock. My dad and his sisters tried to come to some kind of understanding, tried to piece together why it might have happened. I asked him if he had any idea, if he knew she was suffering, why we didn’t do anything to help her.

“We knew she was sad. We knew she was depressed. We didn’t think that she was going to do this.”

And while I knew that she didn’t lay it out for us, that I couldn’t have solved her problems for her, I still felt guilty. I felt guilty for not being there, for not understanding. Mostly I felt guilty for being so naïve. I chose to look the other way when Aunt Beast said she was “fine.” I didn’t want to look any closer, to believe anything other than that she was strong and healthy and beautiful, and that she always would be.

With time that guilt subsided, and I know now that I can’t blame myself for Auntie Beast’s death. I know that she knows that I loved her with all my heart, that I love her still, that I will love her always. But I wish I had paid more attention, that I had looked at the pieces of her problem, of her depression, that I had taken it seriously. I miss her every single day of my life, but the pain is sporadic now instead of a constant ache. Her loves, her hopes, her wishes, her dreams... she will always be a part of me. I can still hear her voice, whispering in soft secrets, just for me....

“How are you, sweetheart?”

“Oh, I’m fine, Auntie Beast.”

“Fine? Are you sure?”

On second thought... I’m good.

~Carly Commerford

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