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I got scared so I ran away when my aunt was dying. Am I a terrible person?

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When I was 16 years old, my aunt got breast cancer. The chemotherapy was too painful that she decided to stop it. She moved into a hospice and died there.

She had no kid so she took me and my brother as her own children. I was closer to her than my own mom. She was a positive person, always made us laugh and dragged us to do fun stuff with her. She was the presentation of joy to me. She was the strength of my life and she helped me go through my grandfather's death. When she was dying, I got so scared and panicked. She was the one who used to help me go through all the difficulties in life, but now she's dying, I had no idea who I should turn to and I was so lonely and scared.

I went to see her in the hospice once with my family. She was so pale, skinny, and weak. Even she was smiling all the time, I could see her exhaustion and sadness in her eyes. I got so scared of seeing her like this. So I never went to visit her again, I indulged myself with school works and kept lying to myself that she'd get better and eventually life would go back to normal. We would go picnic again just like how we used to. Eventually, she died and I got the phone call when I was hanging out with my friends.

I can't forgive myself that I never visited her again. And my school was so close to her hospice... I was just so terrified to see her became so weak and pale. Twelves years have passed now, I can't stop thinking how disappointed she must be when she's lying in the hospice and her beloved niece never came to visit her and be with her... Am I a terrible person? Am I the only one who's so coward that I couldn't face the fact my aunt was dying and help her go through the final days of her life? There was a certain point I think I unconsciously truly convinced myself that one day I woke up and she'd be all healthy like she used to be... Twelve years have passed, tears drop every time I think about her. I really wish I was older when she was dying. When I was more mature and know better about death.

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No you're not a terrible person, and I'm glad you're here to address it.

19 hours ago, Kathy Yang said:

I indulged myself with school works and kept lying to myself that she'd get better and eventually life would go back to normal. We would go picnic again just like how we used to.

 You were in denial, something that is an early part of grief.  Sometimes the pain is too great, the shock too hard for us to deal with it so we go into denial.  It'd help to learn about grief, how we process it, what the process is, to better understand (and forgive) yourself.  You are not alone in how you handled it.  

She looked sad because she was going through the roughest spot of her life and possibly because she knew she'd have to leave you and your brother.  That and cancer is painful.  I watched my sweet MIL bedridden with cancer and dying bit by bit for three years.  It was one of the hardest things I've been through, she was the mom I'd always wanted and we were best friends as well.  

It will be important to work on forgiving yourself, because to not do so would benefit no one and I seriously doubt she'd want you holding onto that as she cared about you and your well being.  Try writing her a letter expressing how you feel, the things you felt when you were going through this, how you love and appreciate her.  Then read it aloud to her.  Who knows but maybe she can hear you!  Regardless, it's therapeutic to do when we have unfinished business with someone.  Yes she may have been disappointed...but she also may have been worried about you and would have loved to have consoled you.  Allow yourself to feel her consolation now.  What do you suppose she would have liked to have told you?


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  • 4 weeks later...

My husband came close to doing the same thing, and he was in his 40s at the time. What prevented it was his mother and I pretty much leaving him no choice. I have to guess that he was in denial, too.  I suspect, in his head, going to see his dad would somehow be 'bad luck', in some convoluted way. 

None of us are perfect. You were very young, and I suspect your Mom would have made you go if she thought it would have been useful / necessary / expected. Sometimes, too, people go downhill pretty quickly. If she was already exhausted from the effort of your visit, it's possible she was only conscious a small portion of the time.

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