Fifty Years Later: What if my aunt didn’t pass away at five?

Today is a somber day for me.  Fifty Years ago, my Aunt Amy passed away.  I wasn’t born yet, in fact, I would exist for another 21 years. That doesn’t mean that I don’t feel a connection though.

It was 1965 and my dad, his parents, his grandma and his two sisters were visiting a family friend on their farm.  I honestly don’t know why Amy was in the water.  I don’t know if they were swimming or what happened but the owner of the farm found Amy 40 feet from the shore of his lake that was about 8 feet deep.

I don’t know much about Aunt Amy. Up until this last year I thought she drowned in a pool in Illinois on their family property. I didn’t know until I joined that she died in a lake in Ohio.

What I do know is that she was full of life at only 5 years old. My family doesn’t talk about her too much.  I visit her well kept up grave site every time I visit my grandparents in Ohio. It is often decorated with white trumpet flowers.

I have to wonder how life would be different today had she just gone for a swim and came back safely to land. What if’s can tear you apart if you let them, but they are also interesting to me.  Maybe because I’m just curious about people or maybe because I’ve learned a lot about how trauma can affect people from my four years as a psychology undergrad.

Her younger sister, the Aunt I’ve known my whole life has had a life long struggle with drugs and alcohol.  From stealing my dad’s car to go to Woodstock in the 70’s to losing her license, she was always finding ways to get into trouble.

I sometimes wonder if she wasn’t the younger sister of the girl who drowned at five, if she would have been on more of a straight and narrow.  Would I have been closer to her all these years?

My dad, Amy’s older brother has always carried a large weight on his shoulders.  I believe that he has always felt like he had to take care of everyone around him but he never took care of himself.  The stress of his passive life led him to use drugs at a rather late stage in life.  He waited until his kids were in college and he was in his 50’s to pick up his first crack pipe.

If Amy was alive to this day, would he have felt the burden of letting her down? Would he have always have felt the need to take care of everyone around him? Maybe she would have knocked some sense into him over these last few challenging years. After all, my sister is often my voice of reason.  Maybe she would have been his.

And what about my Grandparents? We saw them about once a month or so when I was younger but when I was 10 they hit the road and moved into my Grandmothers childhood home in Ohio.  From there we maybe saw them once every 1-3 years.  Even when they did live in Illinois, my father often wondered why they rarely wanted to watch us overnight or when my parents weren’t around.

Now I’m very close with them but why didn’t they stay in Illinois when one of their only two children were here and their only three grandchildren were here? If Amy was alive and lived in Illinois would they have stayed here? Would they have been less frightened to watch us more often? Would they have been more in our lives?

We could look at this thought process another way too.  Would Amy have also gotten into drugs and alcohol?  Is it that hereditary? Would she just have been more trouble?

Or would she have been the glue that held the family together? We won’t ever know.  I know that I wish I got to know her.  I know that it would have been nice to get the chance.  It would have been nice if my family didn’t have to feel that pain. Maybe she would have had children.  It would have been nice to have cousins.

But life is what it is.  There isn’t a way to get these answers. If I ever have a daughter, she will be named Amelia in honor of Amy.  I will remember that she was and I will not dwell on the fact that she is no more. I will embrace the relationship I have forged with my Aunt who I still have with me.  I will keep reminding my dad that he is amazing and that he comes first in his life. I will be happy that I’ve gotten to know my grandparents better over the past year.

We are who we are often because of our past, but more importantly we have the power to become who we want to be.  I want to be healthy, strong and there for my family.  So I will be.  I won’t be held down by our past.

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Filed under: Addiction, Family, Health

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