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The wedding plans moved forward as we approached the big day — Oct. 12, 2013. There were some minor hiccups (seating charts, invitation envelopes — the usual), but, all in all, things were coming together.
Still, one thing was bothering me. My family and I had decided not to invite one of my aunts to the wedding. We hadn’t told this aunt that I was engaged — a decision that we thought was for the best.
Auntie Patty, as I called her, had been struggling with alcoholism for more than 10 years. She wasn’t a “functioning alcoholic,” able to get by while continuing to drink heavily — she was slowly losing a bet with life. Every time we thought that she finally had hit rock bottom, we were wrong. Bankruptcy, hair loss from lack of nutrients, incredible weight loss coupled with incredible bloating: She was a broken walking skeleton, and every day we were surprised that we didn’t get “the call.” Many of us tried to help her, and each time we were reminded that no matter how much a family fights for the health and well-being of a loved one, she needs to want to fight for herself.
My aunt wasn’t always like this. My parents chose her to be my godmother, and we had a fantastic relationship. When she was healthy she would take me out on “special days.” She took me for my first pedicure, on shopping trips, to restaurants — she was the perfect godmother. She was my role model and my idol. On the outside, she was successful, beautiful, stylish, and full of class. On the inside, she was fighting demons.
When I imagined my wedding as a little girl, I never figured that Auntie Patty wouldn’t be there.
Two weeks before the wedding, I was working late, trying to wrap up some loose ends, when my dad called. He asked me for Aleksei’s phone number, and I reminded him that Aleksei didn’t have a direct line that we could call from the States without using Skype. I asked Dad what was wrong — I could tell something was going on — and he told me that Auntie Patty had passed away.
I was with my dear friend, Erin (thank God she was with me), and I crumbled. I literally fell to my knees. My aunt had cheated death for a decade, and it finally caught up with her. I was devastated. I had expected this call for years, and I still wasn’t ready for it.
A million things raced through my mind, and 10 months later, I still find myself wondering: Was she sober and on the road to recovery? Did she die because of prior damage? If I had invited her to the wedding, might she still be alive? Did she know how much she was loved?
We buried my aunt on my parents’ 30th wedding anniversary. We shared fond memories, and tried to laugh — she always knew how to make a dramatic exit. Aleksei wasn’t able to come home for the burial; I know he wished that he could have been there for and with us.
I did my best to build in a tribute to my aunt; we included her in the Prayers of the Faithful and placed a framed picture of her on the mantel at the reception. While it wasn’t exactly what I had imagined as a little girl, Auntie Patty was there for my wedding — and I felt her presence the entire day.milfam milspouse wedding
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