In 2012, my brother-in-law’s father sadly died after a short illness. At the time my eldest nephew Jacob was only 15 months old. His Grandad was a lovely man who clearly adored him, and was a significant part of his life up until that point. But he died when Jacob was young, very young, too young to be able to remember him for long. I remember being really sad for my nephew and his Grandad. Their close relationship wouldn’t be lasting, and all because of the little one’s age. Although Jacob would still remember the time they spent together for a part of his childhood, it was highly unlikely to be with him as an adult. Most people don’t have memories from before the age of 3.5 years, so anything prior to that time is forgotten. All the wonderful people and wonderful events from their earliest baby years are just lost.
Just over a year later, I suddenly collapsed, and entered the world of illness myself. I went from being a healthy 32 year old, looking forward to a lifetime of adventures with my nephews… to an ill 32 year old facing her mortality, and realising that I too may be forgotten by the boys. I clearly remember the moment I realised that, alone in my hospital bed. The thought slammed in to my life. Like a punch in the heart, a punch in the stomach. At that time they were 1 and 3 years old, too young to remember for long, too young to remember in to adulthood.
It sickened me to think, that if I died there in hospital, then by next year they wouldn’t remember our days together. Gone. Vanished. Out of their memory, out of their life. Without a recollection of them, these times would forever disappear. It would be like they never happened. The books were never read, the games were never played, the conversations were never spoken. Stroking the horses wasn’t real, searching for clocks didn’t exist, dancing to the accordion didn’t occur. The fun and laughter and shouting and manicness never happened. Sadness, pure sadness.
But what hurt me most, what pained me inside, what made my stomach ache.. was that if I died then, by next year they wouldn’t remember me. They wouldn’t remember us together, they wouldn’t remember our relationship. Without a memory of me, I would forever disappear. It would be like I never existed, I wasn’t real. The kisses would be erased, the cuddles would be forgotten, the love would be forever lost. Within a year, one of my most important roles, one of my most treasured labels would be ended. My role as their aunty would be over. Ended early. Involuntarily dissolved. Those beautiful nephews would no longer recall having an Aunty Sarah. And even if they were reminded of me, even if their parents talked of me, even if they were told that I had once been important to them… without a good memory of me, I no longer would be. I would just become a stranger in a photograph on their parent’s sideboard. No relevance to their life, no place in their life, no role in their life. Realising that shocked me, kicked me to the floor. Sad.
But thankfully I didn’t die then 🙂 Instead time passed. The boys grew from babies to toddlers to infants. The marks on their height chart got taller, their velcro shoes got bigger… and the days together continued. And I am thankful. Now three years later, three birthdays older, my nephews are 4 and 6 years. As they are both at an age where it is possible to take memories in to adulthood, I have started to hope that if I were to die tomorrow, not all of our days together would die with me. A family bbq or a ride on my scooter, a dog walk with Lottie or an afternoon in my garden. I have a greater optimism that they’ll retain one little memory of our time hanging out. Now they’re older, I’ve started to feel more confident that they will remember me, remember us, remember my role as their aunty. My most tiring-but fun-job will not end the day my life does. And that truly makes me smile.
Being on the transplant list has increased my desire to make memories with the ones I love, in case I never get my call. Phil and I have great plans for our time with the nephews over the next few years. Exciting adventures, things to make, places to go. Sleepovers, camping trips, bike rides, climbing walls. Craft projects saved on pinterest. Wild woods, inspiring castles, wacky museums. Days of fun, that will hopefully become memories of fun. And as they will be more likely to remember the exciting events, maybe one day I should run away to the seaside with them, eat chocolate for every meal, canoe the waves, sleep in a sandcastle!
Everyone wants to be remembered with a smile by the ones they love. And with each passing year, with each passing weekend of fun, with each special moment.. there is a greater chance that when I die, my nephews will remember me. And Aunty Sarah won’t just be a long-forgotten name, or an old photo of a stranger on their parents sideboard.