I used to be fat. The picture on the left, that was me. A year and a half ago, I was clinically obese. At 5'4, I weighed over 340 lbs. I wore 56" waist pants. It was a bad thing because diabetes runs in my family. My dad has it. My aunts have it.
The weird thing is I never saw myself as fat. I knew I wasn't skinny, but I never considered my situation a dire one, or even one deserving much thought or attention. Then my aunt died.
Her name was Maggie, my Aunt Maggie, and we were very close. I don't have a big family. It's just me, my parents, my sister Becky, my two aunts, and my cousin Isaac. That's it. My Aunt Maggie never got married or had kids. She struggled with obesity and diabetes for most of her life.
Then, her kidneys failed her. She had to go to dialysis. Twice a week, every week. I remember going to drop her off some mornings. She had to be at the clinic at 5 am sharp. She'd stay there for three hours or so while they "cleaned her blood." Six long and painful years. I remember the tears.
Aunt Maggie had been on the list for a kidney transplant. She carried around a beeper. It would buzz if the hospital received a matching donor. It could ring at any time, day or night, and she would have to be at the hospital within minutes: the donor kidney doesn't keep long. So she had to be prepared. She kept a bag ready in her closet, packed with clothes and toiletries. For six years, she waited. Then one night, she got the call! A mad scramble to the hospital. She got my dad to drive her - bless her heart. My dad is a beast behind the wheel.
We were all very excited. We waited patiently for news. How did the surgery go? Was she okay? Did the kidney take? We waited. And waited.
Aunt Maggie never came out of the hospital. Something had gone wrong. Her body rejected the organ. Things got complicated. Doctors came to see her. They poked her with needles. They ran tests. She wasn't allowed to leave
Days turned into weeks. Weeks turned into months. We went to see her every day. Some days were good. Most days were not. Little by little, her body was shutting down. Before long, the doctors were preparing us for the worse: there was nothing more they could do. Her situation was hopeless. She was going to die. They would give her medications to ease the pain.
That was a hard blow to my family. In her last days, her lips were blue. Her skin was pale. She couldn't recognize us. She couldn't even talk or move. My Aunt Mernie, her sister, went to her bedside. "Do you remember me," she asked. "Do you know who I am?" Nothing.
By this point, the doctors still had my aunt on life support. Chemicals were being pumped into her body on a daily basis just to keep her alive. One day, the doctors gave my family a choice. They could cease administration of all medications, all treatments, and allow her to live out her last few days without being poked and prodded. She wouldn't feel pain. She would die with some peace.
My family would hear nothing of it. The anger we all felt was overwhelming.
My Aunt Mernie sat at her sister's bedside, defeated, not knowing what to do. She looked at her sister. She tried to speak to her. Nothing. Aunt Maggie hadn't been out of it for weeks. They told us she wasn't even conscious of what was going on around her.
But then, she moved. Faintly. Slowly. Her eyes started to open. This startled my Aunt Mernie. "Are you okay, Maggie," she asked. "Do you know who I am?" My Aunt Maggie looked at her. She actually looked at her! Her lips moved. She wanted to speak. The words formed slowly... "It's... okay," she uttered. That was it. A faint smile came across her face and she closed her eyes.
My Aunt Mernie told the family what had happened. She told my grandfather, too. My grandfather, who has since passed away, was in his 90s when this happened. He was house-bound and confined to a wheelchair. A very religious man, her spent most of his days praying and meditating. My aunt explained the situation to him. For a long time, she had been trying to spare him the details. But, she couldn't anymore. "They want to stop medications. They want to let her pass." My grandfather wouldn't hear it. "I don't think she is here with us anymore, dad," my aunt told him. "I think her soul is with God." My grandfather said he wanted to see his daughter in the hospital.
We took him. He sat at her bedside. He held her hand. He prayed over her. When my Aunt took him back home, he told her, "I didn't want to believe you when you told me what you did. But, I can see you were right. She isn't here with us anymore. I believe she is with God right now."
We made the decision to cease treatments.
My aunt passed away on September 12, 2008. She was in the hospital for six months. Her favorite color was red. She loved Elvis Presley. We all miss her intensely. We still tell stories, stories about all the funny things she said and did. Stories of her kind and courageous nature. Her vibrant spirit.
She was a powerful person. A strong person. She was one of the reasons I decided to take control of my life and lose weight. Her strength and power emboldened me to make some big changes...