'I don't do Facebook', I said, laughing, when my Aunt Olivia asked. She tried to convince me, saying it was a great way to stay in touch, but I demurred. It didn't stop her from finding me on Facebook, though - an empty account set up so a friend could show me some photos - and sending me a friend request. It popped up in my email but I didn't confirm, and so got used to seeing a reminder each time Facebook tried to snarl me.
‘You have a friend request!’ it would say, and there my aunt would be, smiling out from her profile picture.
We were in touch in other ways, of course. She was the friendly face who understood me, the warm voice on the end of a phone, the person who always remembered what was important to me, who took time to ask about my life. We shared the same (rather dark) sense of humour. She got on with everyone – a practical, pro-active person who didn’t dwell in the past but lived for the moment, for the future.
Perhaps familiar with other families who have experienced a lot of bereavement, there is a tendency to look behind, to think that the best of times have already been and gone, something I found very hard to deal with as a young teenager still growing into her life. Olivia’s way of looking ahead was always a much needed breath of fresh air to me and yet she was incredibly thoughtful, such as suggesting that we hold a party on the 20th anniversary of my dad’s death to celebrate his life, and being there for me – and for my mum especially – in so many ways.
When we found out Olivia had cancer a few years ago it was devastating. She took it in her stride, and her positive outlook and strength sent it into remission. During this time we lost another aunt of mine, also to cancer. It felt like there had been some sort of impossible trade – one aunt had sadly passed away but that meant the other stayed, surely?
Sometimes answers to questions stay silent.
The cancer came back in March with frightening speed. Now the talk was palliative, not cure. Now we all heard the invisible clock relentlessly ticking. But we tried to bat that far, far away as we chatted around her bedside. She described her illness as ‘such an inconvenience’ and jokingly told me to ‘keep the receipt’ for the slippers I bought her. She stayed her upbeat, practical self, despite the discomfort and pain, surrounded by beautiful flowers and everyone who loved her.
She passed away last week aged 56.
I opened my email today. ‘Olivia wants to be friends with you’ says the Facebook reminder.
I hope my aunt realised that I was always her friend.
1955 - 2012