A week of gratitude – an aunt gives thanks

Birthdays have always been special in my family. My parents are to be thanked for this for they celebrated each of us from the day we were born. It isn’t the birthday parties that stand out, although always fun, as much as the joy and love that my parents put into each year. And on special years, such as 10 (double digits), 13 (teen), 16 (driving) and so on, we had extra surprises.

When I was diagnosed at 21 with bone cancer, I celebrated my 22nd birthday in the hospital getting chemo. My parents brought the party to me. When my dad was diagnosed with multiple myeloma and released from his bone marrow transplant on his 50th birthday, we still had a small family celebration. When my dad died from cancer several years later, well, celebrating another year of life became even more meaningful to us. (Read my previous blog about celebrating birthdays after cancer.)

Today is one of my niece’s birthdays, a ‘big’ year for her. And also very meaningful to me. For M was born in the midst of my cancer treatment. In fact, born on a day that I was in the hospital undergoing chemo. The maternity floor was above the oncology floor so my younger sisters and parents went from my room to my older’s room, giving me updates on my niece’s arrival. When our little baby finally arrived, one of my nurses pushed my IV as she led me to meet my newest niece. M’s birthday will always stand out because while cancer wreaked havoc on our lives, bringing fear, anxiety and utter disruption, her birth was a bright reminder that joy, love and hope still surrounded us. We just needed to look past the darkness of cancer and see the beauty. And so I grasp to that brightness. I watched M, and her toddler big sister, grow and laugh through my treatment, my dad’s, his death and beyond. And every year M celebrates a birthday, I’m reminded of the joy and hope that arrived with her, and I’m so incredibly grateful for the beautiful, happy, kind, smart young woman she has grown into.

I am incredibly grateful for my four nieces and nephew. I may not be their birth mothers, but I love them as my own children. They bring such joy and love to my lives. They are all so different and touch my life in unique ways, yet all are full of kindness, smiles, smarts and love. I’m always honored that they include me in so many parts of their lives (I was even out at midnight toasting M!), we FaceTime and text, go on adventures, and sometimes simply sit to read and enjoy the other’s company.

In addition to M, there is my oldest niece. Her entry into the world gave me the official title of “Aunt Heather.” Never did I know just how amazing that title could be, how special her entry into our lives, and hearts, would be. H opened my heart to love in a new way, introducing me to laughter, worry, pride, protection. To watch her grow into an amazingly brave, kind woman, to marry an equally kind man, join the military and also work to be part of the medical field to protect and save others, warms my heart.

Then Miss A entered our lives when we again needed a burst of joy. She is my younger sister and brother in law’s miracle. After deep sadness touched their lives, A came along. She arrived unfortunately after my dad’s death and while we were all still figuring out how to move forward, this little sweet girl burst into our lives. She was quietly inquisitive, a little shy yet full of energy and happiness. Her silliness makes me laugh, her huge heart makes mine burst with pride, and the ability to make people feel comfortable is one of my favorite of her traits.

And then my nephew arrived. Our only boy, B is both ‘all boy’ and all sugar. He is in so many ways my dad’s grandson. From similar smirks and interests (and love of desserts), B often makes me take second glances at the wonder of seeing my dad in this child. His thoughtfulness and intelligence wow me, and his deep conversations about books or any of his favorite subjects can pull me in for hours. He is tenacious when tasked with something, a quiet and loving presence, and knows how to charm the women in our family!

And, finally, our baby, the child who dubbed me her “BFF Aunt.” C could be called a clone of my younger sister, her mom, one of my best friends so perhaps that’s why I earned the title. Her adventurous, ready for action spirit, matched with her affection and love of family and friends, and her innate ability to talk from waking to sleep (totally my sister’s child!), ensure she always brings a smile to my face. This is the child who will FaceTime to share the details of her day and, in the midst of playing with friends, stops what she’s doing to whisper in my ear, “I love you so much.”

Yes, I am grateful for these children. For the love, joy, hope and kindness they bring to my life. How could I not be grateful every day for the honor of being their aunt? I can’t wait to continue to watch them grow and make a positive difference in the lives of others.

Are you an aunt or uncle? Isn’t it the best?

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