I will miss her terribly.
Aunt Mame, my deceased partner Bill’s favourite aunt, died today of a cancer that was detected a few months ago and progressed rapidly. I send my deepest condolences to her family and close friends who cared for her with such love.
Aunt Mame babysat Bill as a child and they were close all his life. She was supportive of Bill when he came out and she embraced me when Bill and I became a couple. She and I developed an especially deep connection after Bill’s sudden death in 2009, two weeks after being diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer. She loved “August Farewell”, the memoir I wrote about Bill, and she shared it with her friends. She told me that she was proud of us and wanted others to be introduced to this story of a loving gay couple. As recently as two weeks ago, she lent her copy of “August Farewell” to the palliative care nurse looking after her; hearing Aunt Mame talk about Bill and me, the nurse expressed interest in reading it.
Aunt Mame and I stayed in regular touch with each other through the years. She was always interested in hearing about my travels, enjoyed the photos I sent her, and was keen to learn about interesting people I was meeting through my TSO involvement. We would chat about what was going on in each other’s lives, the fun stuff and the difficult stuff. We found it delightful that we shared the same birthdate of July 7th.
In 2014 on the day I was given an Honorary Doctorate by Victoria College, University of Toronto, I hired a car and driver to bring Aunt Mame from her home in Sutton to Toronto for the Convocation ceremony. She was thrilled to be there and I was thrilled to have her with me. We both wished Bill could have been present and we both knew he was. The pic below is from that day.
Years ago, I gave Aunt Mame a bronzed set of Bill’s baby shoes as a memento of him. She was touched by the gift and told me, “I loved my Billy so much. I’ll have these buried with me.” During our final phone conversation, she told me that those arrangements were in place.
She had been in hospital but, as she wished, she was able to spend some of her final days in her own home with in-home palliative care before being transferred to a hospice. We had in-home palliative care for Bill too when he was dying and I can still picture Aunt Mame’s visit. Here is what I wrote about it in “August Farewell”:
* * *
Friday, August 14, 2009
Bill’s aunt Marion, one of his father’s sisters, comes down from Sutton for a visit this afternoon, driven into Toronto by a friend more accustomed to city traffic than she. Mame, as Bill affectionately called her over the years, sent a letter earlier this week:
“My heart is just aching over your diagnosis. I am so sorry. The only comfort I have is your relationship with God. You have never doubted his love for you or that he walks with you at all times…“
Mame arrives with a bouquet of roses and a card addressed to both Bill and me for our anniversary coming up next week. She is the only family member to acknowledge it.
I try to wake Bill and tell him that Aunt Mame is here to visit him. She leans over the rail of the hospital bed set up in our living room and kisses his forehead. With the pain and the morphine, he’s been going in and out of consciousness the last few days. But he opens his eyes, looks directly at her, and seems to smile. She sits by the bed holding his hand, reminiscing about years gone by, thanking him for his concern for her over the years, and laughing about their many phone conversations.
Blinking back tears from her eyes, she turns to me. “You know my friends were so impressed that Billy used to call me all the way from Mexico when you boys were down there in February each year. And last October, when there was all the publicity about the economic crisis, he phoned and told me not to worry, everything would work out all right. He even asked me if I needed any financial assistance, which I didn’t, of course, because of my pension. My best friend was so jealous because she said that her own son didn’t show as much concern about her as my nephew showed me.”
Turning back to Bill she says, “Well, little Billy, I shouldn’t overstay my welcome. I can tell you are tired. Just remember that I love you so much and I’ll be praying for you.”
I’m grateful that she’s family. To me as well as to Bill.
* * *
The past few months and especially these final weeks have been very difficult for Aunt Mame and for us who love her so much. The diagnosis was terminal and the day by day journey toward that end has been inexorable. But she was often our comforter. On occasion when she found herself still alive, she would joke, “Oh, I see I missed the bus again.” She told me in our final phone conversation, “I want you to listen closely, David. You need to know that I am at peace and not afraid of dying.”
That was an almost identical role as her nephew Bill played twelve years earlier when he was consoling his distraught partner, family, and friends telling us, “I know you’re upset and worried for me but everything is going to be okay. The pain will be over. I’m going soon. I just ask one thing of you. Be kind, to yourselves and each other.”
Aunt Mame was a beautiful, vivacious, and caring woman. She has been such a blessing in my life. I will miss her terribly.
* * *
Aunt Mame and I had so many conversations over the years, some in person but many more by phone and email. A few samples of her messages to me:
- February 19, 2011: “I was in bed reading the last of August Farewell and I was in tears. Your’s and Bill’s story is so very beautiful. You had everything – together. What happiness you found with each other. That’s really kind of rare. You knew Bill’s every need and want, sick or well. What a blessing you were to each other.”
- April 12, 2012: ”I am very, very happy that we are still in each other’s lives. Love Aunt Mame”
- April 4, 2014: “Dear David. I am still sitting here completely stunned. What a beautiful gesture arranging for me to come to your honorary degree Convocation. I am overwhelmed. I have never had anyone treat me with such kindness before. You are one of a kind, David. No wonder Bill loved you for so many years. Love Aunt Mame”
- August 17, 2015: “Happy Anniversary and thanks for the photos. Obsess all you want, David. With wonderful memories that you shared with Bill, it would be very sad to let them just grow old and fade into the past. I know that I am very prejudiced, but I think you do everything right. Enjoy your past!! Lots of love, Aunt Mame”
- December 30, 2018: “I am so sorry that you are having this heart problem. You are young and healthy and it is better to have the open-heart surgery now, rather than wait until you are older and, perhaps, not as healthy as you are right now. Please take care. My heart will be with you on your surgery date. Love, Aunt Mame.”
- January 23, 2021: “Dear David. I am sincerely sorry about your loss of your brother Jim. You have really known a lot of sorrow in your life. Your heart must be broken. Take care of yourself, and stay well. Love, Aunt Mame”
- February 13, 2021: “It’s a wonderful feeling going back over the past through our pictures. Thank you, David, for sending these. They’re beautiful. I hope you are well, and keeping safe. Love, Aunt Mame”
Pics:- Aunt Mame and I celebrating together in 2014 on the day I was given an Honorary Doctorate by Victoria College, University of Toronto. – the last pic I have of Bill and me together taken in about 2005 in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.