Her Final Days

One woman’s last battle

On January 10, the morning of the appointment had arrived. She went out to our front porch to await her friend’s arrival. I told her I loved her and I’d see her when she returned in a few hours.

We didn’t know it then, but that was the last time she would ever see her home.

The Reveal

It first showed itself on the upper part of Celeste’s chest. It came in the form of quarter-sized welts she told herself were “just mosquito bites.” I knew better when I saw that her mosquito bites were now turning shades of yellow and purple and beginning to leak. From across the house, she called me into her bathroom one day to help adjust her bra strap. I could tell I had arrived sooner than she’d expected; as I approached the doorway she was startled. She looked stunned — as if she’d just been busted.

Her secret had been witnessed. She wouldn’t be able to hide nor deny it anymore. There was no way she could put off seeing her doctor any longer, and she knew it.

Together, we cleaned and bandaged up the blood-stained welts with gauze, finished getting her dressed, and I brought her the telephone.

(Image by author)

Aunt Celeste had survived breast cancer eight years ago. This most recent bout had shown up unexpectedly after she broke her wrist from taking a tumble onto the kitchen floor. The doctor said the wrist break triggered her cancer to resurge.

Only, this time it was worse. This time, it was a very rare form of cancer: angiosarcoma.

It had completely thrown us off guard.

The Surgeries

She ended up having over six surgeries within about a year and a half. First came the broken wrist surgery. After the tumors had revealed themselves, then came the biopsies. When those tested positive for angiosarcoma, Celeste’s left breast was taken from her.

The breast removal verdict was hard for her, and she was averse to go through with it. She really had hoped to find some other alternative for getting rid of the tumors. She asked the doctor several times if it was really necessary. Unfortunately, she had no choice. The breast had to go; there was no saving it.

Next, there came a follow-up biopsy on her remaining chest tissue, which sadly came back positive still. Another gut kick for my poor auntie.

The surgeon went back in once again, this time to remove a larger portion of her left side torso, followed by deeper extraction of the muscle in her chest. By this time, there wasn’t enough skin or tissue remaining on the upper front part of her body for them to close her up and stitch her back together again.

Because of this, she had to be hooked up to a dreadful, but necessary, wound VAC for a few months while her skin slowly grew itself back.

During this stage, the only thing blocking her insides from the outside elements was a thin, hardened piece of foam (which I can only compare to a piece of black sandpaper) that was vacuum-suctioned to the gaping hole on her body.

She endured many, many months of this. Back-to-back procedures and semi-healing time in between each one became the new normal for my Aunt Celeste, the tough little cookie.

The Prep and Upkeep

All of the medical equipment attached to her battered body (during the various post-surgery stints) wasn’t allowed to get wet, so Celeste was sponge-bathed. A few times a week I would gently and carefully scrub her from scalp to toes. At first it kind of embarrassed her, but after we got through the initial uncomfortableness, it became just part of our routine. Her bath day was actually good bonding time for the two of us. We would have a good half hour or more of uninterrupted chatting and storytelling, just us two. The talking aloud also made it more comfortable, since she was buck naked.

She was helped to and from the toilet. This consisted of unhooking the drainage bags and tubes that were safety-pinned to her undergarments, I’d hold them while she went potty, and pin them back on after she was done.

Photo by Lubomirkin on Unsplash

Aunt Celeste was pretty much confined to the bed for at least a month after each surgery—or until the next surgery. Throughout every invasive procedure and post-op aftermath, she rarely complained of discomfort. She stayed so positive the entire time. Some folks said she was in denial. I say she stayed hopeful.

She also didn’t take any painkillers throughout her entire ordeal. That’s what I call a trooper.

Celeste was put on “home rest” by her doctors after each procedure. That meant no driving and no outings for a while. She’d get pissed off every time the Doc would remind her to stay home.

The hospital also ordered her home-care nurses to come and check on her surgical wounds every day at first, and later switching to every third day. I was to be the in-between caretaker. I now have some major experience under my belt.

The company my aunt had been working for the last several decades started having her work remotely from home already a few years ago, and even though she was supposed to be resting, she continued to work the entire time. She’d usually work from her bed, although sometimes we’d move her carefully from her bed to her desk in the living room, and she was glad to be sitting up and on her computer, working (or playing Candy Crush).

I’d lie in her room with her and we’d catch up on the certain TV shows that we only would watch together, or we’d watch Hallmark movies. Our family members would sometimes come down to visit and do the same, but Aunt Celeste would get bored. She wanted to play baseball. She wanted to go to the plays at the local amphitheater or go to lunch with her pals. She wanted to go to Costco. She just wanted out of the house.

My auntie at bat — (Image by author)

As soon as she received the “OK” from her doctor, Celeste was on her way to Sunday mass. Her church choir was her life. (Well — her church, her softball league, and the Dallas Cowboys.) She had been directing and singing in the choir for the past forty years.

She and I would spend about an hour preparing her for (what used to be) a simple outing. We would make sure all of her bandaged areas were still holding strong. If not, I would need to rig them up and as best as I could so they would last at least until she came home, if not until the nurse’s next visit. Every time we had to remove and re-tape her bandages, it caused her considerable pain. Still, she toughed it out and didn’t complain. She was amazing.

We would wriggle her into her pantyhose and then her skirt. I would attach the mastectomy drain bags or the wound VAC to her clothes in such a way so that the tubes and bulky drainage canisters wouldn’t show when the hem of her blouse rose up while she moved her arms. Next, she’d sit on the bed and I’d kneel on the ground to place her sensible, low-heeled dress shoes on her feet.

She felt like a child, needing someone to dress her and having to make sure she remembered to use the bathroom before she left since she wouldn’t be able to disassemble the attached medical equipment while she was out of the house. Aunt Celeste was a fiercely independent woman, and she didn’t like having to rely on others for anything.

Photo by Siora Photography on Unsplash

Boobs and Bras

Once the skin around the edges of her chest wound finally grew back, Celeste was able to have the wound Vac removed. It was now time to have painful skin grafts taken from her thigh and attached to her chest. The upper part of her thigh looked as if a waffle cone rolled around, burning an imprint of its texture into her raw, reddened skin along the way.

With her left breast gone and all of these wounds and scars everywhere, Celeste started feeling like a beat-up rag doll. She didn’t like what she saw in the mirror anymore. My mom and I always would try to keep her from being hard on herself. She was so embarrassed by her form underneath her shirt. We’d explain to her that she shouldn’t be ashamed or embarrassed about her mastectomy. She should be proud. “They’re battle wounds”, I’d tell her, which would always make her smirk. “You lived through it and you should be proud to show it off... I’m proud of you.”

I’d remind her that she wasn’t alone, because not only were we here with her, but every other woman who has gone through this was with her as well. Still, she was self-conscious and uncomfortable being seen in her present state.

After the skin graft procedure was finished, and the doctors were sure the graft had attached successfully and was healing properly, it was now basically a waiting game. During this time, she had a considerable amount of trouble sitting or lying down because of the soreness from where the graft was taken.

A couple of months had passed, and the newly attached skin on her chest seemed to be solid enough and just about fully healed. Therefore, it was time to order a prosthetic breast and go mastectomy bra shopping. Celeste was shy and insecure about the fact that she had only one breast, and since it was one giant breast (the women in our family are stacked), finding a silicone gel artificial boob that was big enough to match her size 48 FFF natural one proved difficult. After a lot of research, she ended up finding one that was slightly smaller and perkier than her real one, but it was the closest resemblance she’d found.

We brought her shiny new boob to the mastectomy bra store with us. It needed to be there in order to find a bra that could hold the heavy artificial appendage. After an hour’s worth of try-ons, it turned out to be a successful trip. She found two pocketed mastectomy bras that would work well in holding up her new breast; a nice “church” bra and a casual everyday bra.

Her prosthetic boob — (Image by author)

Chemo, Scarves, and a Wig

The second to last procedure in this roundup was installing a port in her chest for her upcoming chemotherapy, which would then have to be removed again later on.

Aunt Celeste spent the next several months in chemo. It made me cry every time the day came for her to go.

Once a week she would walk into the large specialized room with rows of brown faux-leather chairs full of frail-looking people receiving their treatment. Each recliner chair had its own individual mini TV screen so that each patient could watch whatever they wanted. Since no one thought to use the provided headphones, it could get pretty noisy in there.

A nurse would walk over and greet Aunt Celeste as he or she inserted the needle into the port under Celeste’s skin, which upon flesh entry would always make her wince.

Sometimes she and my mom would play cards while receiving her treatment, other times she just wanted to rest.

About two months into her chemo Aunt Celeste lost her hair.

The majority of it fell out in less than a week’s time. There were wispy piles of brown and grey hair sprinkled all over her clothes, pillowcases, and the furniture. I brought out my hair clippers so she, my mom, and I could all three shave our heads together, but Aunt Celeste refused; she desperately wanted to hold on to any rebel patches of hair that were resistant to come out. Despite all of the bodily trauma from the surgeries, this is what really got her down. She already felt disfigured from being hacked up and sewn back together like Frankenstein (her words, not mine), and now on top of it, she was going to be bald, no doubt about it.

Celeste was never a girly girl. Definitely not a primper. The most makeup she’d wear was Chapstick, and maybe some clear nail polish. She wore her hair very short: “wash and wear” was what she called it. Yet when it all fell out, she was clearly affected by it. The mastectomy, she said, made her feel like she wasn’t a woman anymore. Now, she felt like a monster.

She stopped going outside after that.

My mom bought Aunt Celeste a wig. A light brown, short-haired wig that looked very similar to her natural hair, but a bit jazzier. We went shopping and got her some new clothes for church, and she looked great. When we’d get her ready to go out of the house, in her stylish new threads, with her new ‘do, she definitely had some of her confidence back. She said she “felt hip”, and it totally showed. I could tell she felt sassy.

Every time Mom and I went out shopping anywhere, we would pick up different scarves and hats for all different events and holidays so that Celeste would feel cute. My aunt liked that. She was never one to give much thanks or praise to anyone for anything, but we could tell she enjoyed the thought — and the accessories.

She’d ask me to “fix her up” for wherever she was getting ready to go. She’d always ask which scarf would go with her outfit, we’d pick it out together, and I’d wrap her head in a fashionable style.

When Celeste’s chemo treatments were over, and her next testing results came back as negative and cancer-free, we were all ecstatic. She could finally start getting her life back, and we could all put this big ol’ mess behind us.

Her hair started coming in soon after. Though it came in very grey and white at first, it slowly proceeded to turn back to almost its normal shade.

My mom and Aunt Celeste when her hair had just started growing back — (Image by author)

New Trouble

This past winter, Celeste began having trouble breathing.

She started panting heavily any time she moved around. Mom and I noticed right away, but Celeste brushed it off as allergies. I hated seeing her like this. We knew she was uncomfortable and in constant misery and we couldn’t do anything about it. She was always a stubborn one, my aunt.

Finally, after a couple of weeks of living this way, she begrudgingly told us her chest felt heavy. I was able to convince her to let me drive her to the E.R. Upon examination, they told us she had some unidentified fluid in her lungs that needed to be drained — but unfortunately, there was no doctor on site that evening who could do the procedure. They kept her there for two nights before the doctor finally arrived. He did the draining procedure and she was released a day later.

About a week after our ER visit, Celeste was again huffing and puffing any time she walked more than a few feet. Instead of making another trip to the ER, she wanted to wait until her upcoming appointment with a specialist the following week. Another family member, Aunt Rosey, was Celeste’s ride for this appointment. It was down at the big campus hospital. They left at 9 am, arrived by 10, Celeste got her lungs drained — this time over a liter's worth of fluid— and they were back by 3 pm, with time for a lunch stop on the way home. Celeste felt really good after that. She could breathe again and walk without becoming winded.

Aunt Celeste had a follow-up appointment scheduled for two weeks later down at the campus hospital again.

The Appointment That Would Last Forever

On January 10, the morning of the appointment was here and it couldn’t have arrived sooner. It was obvious Celeste's lungs were filling back up, as she had been huffing and puffing again for the past week. Her friend, Zeke, was going to be her chauffeur that day. She went out to our front porch to await her friend’s arrival. As my aunt sat in one of the white plastic chairs right outside my bedroom window, she began to sob and softly cry out to me:

“I don’t know what I’m going to do…”

She started to gasp and trail off between words.

“I don’t know if I can make it…. from… the car… into… the appointment.”

“ I can… barely walk.”

I rushed out the front door to her side. She was moaning and groaning and trying to catch her breath all the while crying tears still. This was bad. This was a woman who went through all of those previous surgeries and recoveries with nary a wince or a whimper. Aunt Celeste didn’t usually cry or whine — unless it was important.

I told her not to worry. I explained to her that Zeke could run into the appointment office ahead of her and bring out a wheelchair to assist her into the building. I reassured her that she would be okay, and everything was going to be just fine.

Zeke finally arrived, and I repeated the scenario to him. Together we helped Celeste into the car. I told her I loved her and I’d see her when she returned in a few hours.

We didn’t know it then, but that was the last time she would ever see her home.

Photo by Boris Smokrovic on Unsplash

The day turned into evening, and when they still weren’t back yet I was getting worried. I tried calling her cell phone, but I already knew before I dialed that there would be no answer. She still used an old green-screened Nokia phone, and she only turned it on for emergencies.

Six o’clock rolled around, then seven. Finally, at 8:30 the doorbell rings. It’s Zeke. He tells me the doctors drained 2.5 liters of fluid from Celeste’s lungs this time and decided she needed to stay overnight. She didn’t have a set room number yet, but she would be calling me when she did.

The next morning came and I still hadn’t heard anything, so I called down to the hospital. After LOTS of back and forth transfers, I finally reached my aunt. She sounded excellent. She told me she felt good and could breathe well ever since they drained her. We babbled for a bit, talking about the hospital food she’d been given (picky eater), and discussing any info she’d heard from the doctor and nurses. At the end of our conversation, I told her I loved her and would call her later that night.

For the next couple of weeks, that’s pretty much how it played out every day. Each day we’d get ready to go pick her up, and each day Celeste would find out that the doctors weren’t letting her come home just quite yet. It was either because they needed to run even more tests, or the ones they’d already run had inconclusive results, or the results weren’t what they expected. They’d drain her lungs pretty much every day, or every other day. The doctors said the fluid was likely coming from some “mysterious virus”.

She started having other major setbacks as well. Her blood count and platelets started dropping, and they had no idea why it was happening. She was receiving blood transfusions every day. That turned into platelet transfusions as well, and still, her counts were dropping. She had MRIs, and CT scans. They tested her bone marrow as well. She was poked, prodded, and tested on so much that she was absolutely exhausted due to the lack of sleep because the docs and nurses would have to come in at all hours of the day and night to do more work on her.

Aunt Celeste was annoyed because they moved her to a shared room, and she had a roommate who wouldn’t leave her alone. Celeste said that she would open her eyes and wake up to this lady “basically sitting on my lap”. The woman would stay on my aunt’s side of the room and would sit in the chair right next to her bed and watch my aunt’s TV instead of her own. I told her the lady was most likely lonely and nervous, and it probably made her feel better to be sitting with or talking to someone, even if there was no response.

All my auntie wanted was to come home. Days turned into a week, then two. Every day when we’d talk, she’d just tell me over and over how much she wanted to come home. She said she missed me. She missed my mom. She missed her house. She missed her “boring little life”, as she called it.

Mom, Celeste, and a pal at MLB spring training — (Image by author)

The Choice

We would soon get the news that would break all of our hearts. The cancer was back, again. They now believed this was the cause of the fluid in her lungs, but they still didn’t know exactly where the fluid was originating. This current attack was unexpected and moved too quickly for us to be ready or accepting of what was about to happen.

The cancer was in her bone marrow this time. There were some difficult decisions to be made. My aunt had three options:

  • She could stay in the hospital, but they would be taking her off of the transfusions and everything else, meaning she wouldn’t last very long after that.
  • She could go home, get rest, and pray for a miracle. With this option — again — she would likely not live very much longer.
  • She could go home and start another round of chemo, this time with added blood transfusions every single day. With this option, there was at least a chance for a positive outcome.

Celeste chose the Chemo option. Though she did NOT want to go through that again, it seems as though she would have to.

This was where it was left off. She would be doing this for the foreseeable future, until further notice. Celeste was just glad to be going home soon, and so were we. It’s where she belonged.

On Friday, January 31st of 2020, my mom and I drove down to the hospital to visit Celeste. We hadn’t been able to go down there recently due to my health problems, my mom’s graveyard shift work schedule, and also because my mom had an awful cold and we couldn’t risk my aunt catching it and getting any worse.

That morning, a small box arrived on our doorstep. It was addressed to Aunt Celeste but it had no sender name written on it anywhere. We grabbed the package on our way out the door and brought it along.

When we arrived at the hospital, we stopped at the gift shop to get her a cheerful card and gift on our way up to her room. Little stuffed animals always made Celeste happy. It’s something she always had in common with my Grandma, her mother.

Aunt Celeste was set up in a shared room. There was a nurse’s desk in the middle of the room, with several other patient-filled hospital beds flanking it. Upon walking in, something seemed strange— there were far too many doctors in what was an already cramped room. My mom and Celeste's other sister, Rosey, had already been there for a while. Everyone turned to look at us and said hello with smiles on, but I sensed right away that the smiles were forced.

Mom and I inched our way into the room to sit in the provided chairs. I gave my Aunt Celeste a big, long-awaited hug and kiss as I handed her the card and little pink bear. I could see her eyes welling up with tears as she read the words written inside. I had written about how glad I was that she was finally coming home, and how she belonged at home where she could rest comfortably and be taken care of by her family. We wrote how much she meant to us and how we’ve missed her. I wrote that I loved her more than words could ever say.

I then handed her the package from our front porch and informed her that I didn’t know who it was from. She opened it. It was a mug. A special mug. It had words written on it, as if from God.

Now, I’m not a religious person, but my Aunt Celeste is, and she definitely needed something like that right now. This mysterious package seemed meant to be.

(Image by author)

The whole time I’m in this hospital room, it just felt off. All of these doctors and nurses looked on edge. They looked defeated. It was obvious they needed to tell us something but didn’t know how to begin.

Celeste started it for them. “Well, we just got some bad news”, she said.

The cancer was now in her spine and there would be no more blood transfusions after the following day. She now had two very sad options; either stay there in the hospital to die or come home and die comfortably in her house.

Celeste chose to come home. She was to be released the next day.

We, of course, broke down then and there. How could this be? Just yesterday they told us she was going to be released and we were discussing the next step in her treatment, and now she has maybe a couple of weeks left to live? What the hell.

For the rest of the visit, Celeste, my mom, my aunt Rosey, and I went through some necessary paperwork while we wept. It was time for us to leave in order to get my mom to work on time, so we said our goodbyes. I put my hand up to Aunt Celeste’s face and cradled her cheek. I told her I loved her and I’d see her tomorrow.

The Empty Room

The following day was a Saturday. I awoke with my pillow drenched in tears. It was hard to accept what was happening — and happening so fast. I couldn’t even imagine what was going through my dear Celeste’s mind. How can someone hear the news that they now have a few weeks to live. I think that was the most painful and heartbreaking part for me, personally: just thinking about what she could possibly be feeling during this time. She never fell apart once throughout the entire ordeal.

My mom, myself, and a couple of other family members spent the morning preparing the house and Aunt Celeste’s bedroom for her arrival. We took apart her bed and moved it out of the room in order for the hospice company to bring in the new medical bed. We cleaned and dusted and cleared things out of the way so the bed and wheelchair could be wheeled through the hallways. My aunt was now using a bedpan; she had lost control of her bowels completely. We made sure to have a good supply of the necessary items in order for her to be comfortable. Her body was beginning to give up whether she was ready or not.

My mom made dozens of phone calls telling Celeste’s friends what was going on, and letting them know when she would be home so that they could come and visit her in her final weeks on this Earth.

In the meantime, Celeste was at the hospital awaiting her ambulance transportation. That morning she was visited by some relatives who came out from out of state to see her. They brought her favorite strawberry milkshake and as she drank it she told them she couldn’t wait to get out of there and be home. She was looking forward to watching the Superbowl the next day. (We were going to have a little Superbowl party in the bedroom with her, my mom and I)

It was late afternoon when the employee from the hospice company arrived. He set up the bed. He went back and forth from his car as he started setting up some other bedside accessories. Rosey and I started putting some new fresh sheets on the hospice bed. As she unwrapped the pillowcases I excused myself to use the restroom. That’s when I heard it; my Aunt Rosey’s phone rang. She started wailing incoherently. From what I could hear, she was repeating the phone conversation she’d just had. I didn’t want to come out of the bathroom. I knew what was waiting outside the door.

Photo by Carolina Heza on Unsplash

As I walked out I saw Rosey crumple into my mom’s arms. In between sobs, she said the nurse had just called and told us to head down to the hospital right away. As they were loading Celeste onto the gurney to put her in the ambulance, she started having difficulty breathing. At that point, the nurse (in her own words) gave Celeste something to ease her pain. (Probably morphine or something alike, which my Aunt Celeste had refused during her entire hospital stay. She always refused any time the staff wanted to give her drugs, during ALL of her hospital stays).

The nurse on the phone then said that Celeste’s eyes rolled back and she became unresponsive. We were told to hurry down to the hospital in order to say our goodbyes because she was “starting to go”.

We all piled into Rosey’s car and her husband hauled us down to the hospital in the fastest car ride I’ve ever taken. He dropped us off at the main entrance, and we ran.

Photo by Cory Mogk on Unsplash

Rosey and I were the first off the elevator. We ran down the hallway, frantically trying to find the new room Celeste was in. Upon arriving at her door, we were greeted by another nurse I’d never met before. As we were trying to bypass her, she started to say how sorry she was for our loss — wait, WHAT!?

Rosey and I looked at each other, and then back to the nurse.

I blurted out “She passed away?” as Rosey simultaneously asked, “She’s gone?”

As our questions overlapped each other, the nurse’s stunned expression along with a side-tilted sympathy head nod was our confirmation.

We asked what time it had happened, and she told us Celeste had passed at 5:45 pm — fifteen minutes prior.

We entered the room, and Rosey crumpled over and started to yell at both the air in the room and Celeste, asking why she couldn’t have “just waited a little longer…?”

I don’t know what I was expecting to see as I walked in the door, but I certainly wasn’t ready for it.

Celeste’s corpse lie in a bed against the wall; her skin sallow and yellowing, mouth halfway open, looking as if she was mid-snore during a good sleep. She had a blanket covering her up to her chest, all tucked in perfectly. I could see the outline of each one of her little toes poking up under the covers. I sat beside her and gently touched her leg through the blanket. I wanted to hug her. I didn’t.

I’ve seen death before. In my troubled past, I’d been around it more often than I’d like to admit or remember. But… this was different. This was my Celeste, dead.

My mom entered the tiny room, and she too fell apart.

We asked lots of questions about Celeste’s final moments, as we all were distraught to not have been there. We DID NOT want her dying alone — it’s the whole reason why she was coming home.

We all felt awful. I kept apologizing to Celeste for not being there during her final moments. The room nurse kept on assuring us that Celeste was upbeat and in a good mood all morning because she knew she was heading home, and she knew we were all at her house preparing for her arrival later on.

There was some comfort in hearing that another sibling had called the room prior to us arriving. The nurse said she held the phone up to Celeste’s ear and that my aunt heard every word, despite not being able to respond.

When we got home late that night, the other three dropped me off and went to get some food. I couldn’t eat. I was a wreck.

I walked into my auntie’s empty bedroom, the hospice equipment still halfway through being set up. She was supposed to be there. There was supposed to be more time. We were supposed to spend the next few weeks talking and saying everything that needed to be said. I really needed that time with her; I needed a goodbye.

I sat down on what would’ve been her new bed — and that’s when I lost it. I looked around the room at her belongings, and without resistance, I let gravity take me down.

Falling sideways onto the bed, I released everything. I grasped the sheets in my fists. I tugged, twisted, and punched the mattress as I blubbered and choked on saliva and tears. Turning facedown, I rolled my head back and forth on the soft blue fabric to wipe my eyes. At some point, I must’ve cried myself to sleep because I awoke an hour later with the sheet still entangled tightly in my grip.

Photo by Bret Kavanaugh on Unsplash

She’s Never Far

My mom spent the next day making phone calls. She needed to call back everyone she had phoned the previous day, only now to tell them that they wouldn’t be able to visit their friend; she wasn’t coming home.

The hospice company came back to pick up their equipment, unused.

I spent the day lying in my bed while I watched the Superbowl, alone, with my Aunt Celeste’s favorite stuffed teddy bear sitting next to me.

We lost someone special.

For me, she wasn’t just an aunt who I would see during Christmas and other family gatherings. We lived in the same house. Us three gals were our own family unit; Aunt Celeste, me, and my mom. When we lost her we were devastated. She was my mom’s big sister and a second mom to me. We’re still coping every day.

A few days after the funeral, we found out where the ever-mysterious mug had come from. A friend from my aunt’s choir group was the one who’d left it on our porch. She had ordered it for Celeste as an intended Christmas gift. It was late to arrive, so she hadn’t been able to give it to her personally during the holiday events and festivities at church. Had she dropped it off just a day, or even an hour later, we wouldn’t have brought it along to the hospital and Celeste would never have had the chance to open it. Even though she didn’t get to drink from her mug, it put a smile on her face and brightened her final hours.

This house has always felt like my home, no matter where in the world I actually lived. Now it feels like guilt. Guilt from the fact that we’re here, and she isn’t.

As empty as it feels here sometimes, it holds a lot of happy memories. I can still imagine my aunt humming and singing from her desk. It used to drive us crazy, but now I would give anything to hear it again.

She’s now singing alongside her mother and the angels. I’m sure of it. It would explain why Celeste wasn’t scared, even in the end.

It’s because she knew where she was headed.

We’re still having trouble letting go of Celeste’s belongings, but with each day that passes, it becomes a little bit easier to walk into her bedroom. We miss her, but we know she’s here still — watching over us.

She had a smile on her face throughout her entire journey — (Image by author)

I write about life, death.... and anything else I need to get off my chest. Personal Reveries; Addiction & Recovery Tales; Cancer Chronicles

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