For as long as I can remember, we've had a strange relationship with my Aunt Carol. I didn't know much about her growing up other than she was a drug addict, lived in New York, and because of that we weren't supposed to be allowed to go to New York.
She has always been a mystery to me because I don't get to see her much. I remember we watched her dog, Sadie, for a while when we lived in Michigan. She was a big black lab and was the first dog we ever had in our house. She also managed to eat all of the Halloween candy that my brother and I had collected that year.
I remember she came to visit my family after we moved to Indiana much and that's the most time I ever remember her spending with us. She is an amazing artist and while she was talking to my mom one night, sat with my Alice in Wonderland book and drew some of the pictures just as well, if not better, than they were in the book.
And I remember the last time I saw her, which was at my grandpa's funeral, which was over ten years ago. I don't remember much of what we said to each other, but I know that we talked about what an amazing person my grandpa was, which is kind of ironic because my aunt's drug addiction was part of what ruined my grandparent's relationship at the end of their lives. She didn't come to my grandma's funeral because by the time we actually got in contact with her to tell her about my grandma, the funeral had already taken place.
I guess I've never really known what to think about my Aunt Carol. Obviously I've thought of her as a cautionary tale to show what drugs can do to your life and the people around you, which I bring up to my students from time to time. But I've also thought of her as my mom's little sister who simply had a really messed up life. She never finished college. She went to the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York for a little while and I really thought she had finally pulled her life together, but she ended up dropping out. She called the house the day I graduated high school and I got to talk to her for a little while. She called the house (my parent's house) a few weeks before my wedding and I got to talk to her about my wedding for a little while.
But mostly, I think about my mom's relationship with her and how strange it must be to grow up with a little sister who then becomes someone whose life you can't even begin to imagine. I know that she's been homeless. She's slept outside on the streets of New York City. She's "borrowed" money from my grandparents, my parents, and my aunts and uncles. (From my grandparents, she "borrowed" enough that it ended up destroying their relationship. My grandma refused to stop giving my aunt money even when my grandpa told her not to. My grandma took out credit cards, ran up thousands of dollars in debt, and went so far as remortgaging the house they had already paid off behind my grandpa's back.)
I know that my mom wants desperately to do anything she can for Carol, but also understands the limits she has to place on her help because of what happened to my grandparents and because my mom wants, above all, to keep her marriage and her family safe. I know that my mom's heart breaks whenever she talks to Carol. And I know that my mom will always fiercely love Carol because she's her sister and because my mom knows that she's the only one in the family who hasn't given up on Carol, who talks to her and maintains a relationship with her because my mom realizes, no matter what, the importance of family.
For the past few years, my Aunt Carol has been living in Macon, Georgia with her boyfriend and her dog. She tells us that she's clean and not using drugs, though you can never really know if what she says is true. And she's been attending church every week. She has a supportive church group there and seems to have finally gotten her life together, at least somewhat. She has Hepatitis from her drug addition and in the past year she was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer.
Last night, I got a call from my mom. She got a call from Carol's boyfriend saying that Carol was in the ICU. It seems some sort of bug bit her and the bite got infected. Then the infection got into her bloodstream. My mom got to talk to Carol for a few minutes, but my mom said that Carol was in a lot of pain. She seems to be doing better today, but my mom decided that it would be a good idea to drive down and see her, so she's on her way to Georgia. Prayers for my aunt and my mom would definitely be appreciated!