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The story starts long before my birth; in the early 1970s when people would knock on (or in many cases just walk right through) their neighbour's doors for a pint of milk or some sugar, and people were generally of the opinion that strangers should be trusted until given a reason not to, quite unlike the way most people in the United Kingdom think today. My grandmother lived in a flat with my grandfather and my uncle, who at the time was only a toddler. On this one day my grandfather was at work and my grandmother was at home alone with her young son when she fell ill. With an ambulance on the way and no one to look after her child, she goes out onto the balcony and sees a woman around a decade older than her wearing a nurse's uniform returning home from her shift. Unable to think of any other option, my nana decides that she must place her trust in this person and calls out to her, explaining the situation and asking her to watch my uncle for a while until her husband returned home. Wanting to help in any way she could, this lady agrees, unaware of the lifelong bond that would come of it.
In the years that came later my uncle grew, and so did the friendship between my nana and Auntie Nora. My auntie was willing to babysit whenever she could, and would go around often for cups of coffee or to drive my nana into town to do her shopping since neither her or my granddad owned a car. And then in 1978, my mum was born.
Now my mum and my auntie had a special bond, much like the one I shared with her, but it was unique to them, like mine was unique to me and my auntie. My mum was her goddaughter, but to her that truly just meant daughter, and she was a second mother to my mum. They did everything together from the moment my mum was born, and a photo album retrieved from her house after her death demonstrates this. She was there whenever my mum had a nightmare, she took her to the park, to the swimming pool, to Spain. And that continued all the way through her adult life. There is a part of me that is jealous that my mum got to have this indescribably amazing person in her life for 37 years while I got 16 that seemed to go too fast, but I'm just glad that my mum had somebody as precious as her to support her through all the tough moments in her life, and to guide her through as much of her adulthood as she could.
My auntie's favourite hobby was sewing, and whenever we would visit she would be working on a new pillowcase for her home or something for her local church, which was very important to her. I have several quilts that she had carefully crafted for me throughout my childhood - which have pastel pink and purple patches decorated with floral patterns and butterflies - that I know for a fact I will treasure forever. She would make an effort to take me and my brother to soft play areas at least once a month when we were small, and later to the bowling alley or cinema, and to Blackpool with my nana every summer. I have many memories of her sneaking treats into the cinema for us, winning us prizes at the arcade, trading shoes with me for an entire day and walking round with my trainers on because I was excited we shared a shoe size, accidentally breaking my chair when I was four years old and she sat in it to let me do her hair, buying my phone off me at thirteen years old (that she didn't really want) so she could justify buying me a new bag I wanted. That was the type of goofy, selfless, amazing person she was.
She was there for me and my younger brother when my granddad died. She looked after us while my parents were at the hospital, and stayed strong for us even though she was coping with her own loss since they had been friends, and she thought of my nana as a sister. She helped us through the first real loss we were aware of, and she helped my mum through the biggest loss of her life so far. She lessened our pain as much as she could just by being there.
I could honestly talk for days about how phenomenal this lady was, and it still wouldn't truly express how much she meant to me, or how much it hurts me that she's gone even two years later.
I remember the day it happened like it was yesterday. It was just over a month after my sixteenth birthday and I had my music playing so loud I couldn't even hear my dad shouting me. He came upstairs and told me that my auntie had collapsed at home and she wasn't breathing and that the paramedics were trying to revive her and that he and my mum were leaving to go and see her. It came as such a shock to me; she was supposed to be coming over for dinner that weekend. Last time I had seen her she was still as lively as ever, even in her eighties. Right then and there I knew that she was dying, and my happy mood vanished. I had to inform my twelve year-old brother of what was happening, who seemed less worried than me. He either didn't understand what it meant, or he didn't want to think about the possibility of never seeing her again. I couldn't stop pacing around my bedroom just hoping that everything would be okay and thinking about how I never got to say goodbye, until my parents returned and told me that my Auntie Nora had passed away.
Probably the hardest thing for me was the timing. She missed me passing my GCSEs and getting into college. The night of my prom when I wore a ring that she had left for me and my family were there to wave me off and she wasn't there. And this year, I have turned eighteen and have just gotten accepted into university, something she had always wanted for me and told me I could do one day. I never got to tell her the news.
It takes a special person to be there so much for their family, but it takes an extra special person to become a part of a family so much that everyone feels like they were there forever and that it wouldn't be the same without them. I know that I am extremely lucky that I was blessed with an auntie like my Auntie Nora, who was much more like a third grandmother. Losing her has been hard, but I don't even want to think about what our lives would have been like if fate hadn't brought us together and she had never been a part of our family.