Domino Effect – Part 2

On 17 September, after a nine month struggle with brain cancer, my mother’s twin sister slipped away from us. In many ways, she was like a second mother to my siblings and me. It’s been difficult to put into words the profound and unexpected impact of her loss, considering a year ago we were celebrating the twins 70th, unaware of what would come.

17 November 2014

Dear Aunty Barb,

It’s been two months since you left us. A week since I’ve been trying to write you my farewell.

There was so much I never had the chance to say to you.

You’re with me, in my kitchen, everyday.

The gifts you gave are more than they appear.

GlassYou’re the twist of lemonade in an ordinary drinking glass (you never did like plain old H2O).

You’re the kick of chilli in the curry powder tin (and I can hear your wicked cackle, now).

But it’s right that this is where your memory dwells.

You spent your life nourishing the family, and that extended out, to the community beyond.

You did it with a flair and an originality that was all your own – a fairy garden here, a hand crafted zombie pop-up there.

You always took such joy in the little details of our lives. Like my dream to write.

It was a doing kind of love you had. And I wish you knew how much that meant to us. To me.

But even as I say it, I know you knew, very well, the value of the things you did.

It was me who was slow to cotton on.


I was supposed to help you write down your memoirs. My deepest regret is never making time for that – I never did stay over like you hoped I would. The reasons why seem trivial, at best, now that you’re gone.

You left too soon.

You had your first sip of alcohol only after 60.

JarAge 69, you and your friends were out til 5am for New Year’s Eve, putting to shame the next generation who preferred to go to bed.

You loved spending time with us. It helped to keep you young, you said.

But your outlook always was more youthful than your age.

Which is why your departure, at 70, has come as such a shock.

In hindsight, all the signs were there. The refusal to participate. The angry depression. The impenetrable loneliness. The slips in memory.

When the tumour was discovered, your withdrawal penetrated our realities with slow motion, domino effect.

Who were we, without you?


I always assumed my place was on the fringe. Most of what I knew of my cousins was from stories you would tell me of their lives. Somehow, as you took your leave of us, I found myself drawn in.

Nothing is the same as it was a year ago. When we gathered for the 70th reunion, I didn’t want to be there. And I left with an embittered sense of invisibility. A belief that no one understood.

But maybe it was me who didn’t understand.

Your departure has made us see things in a different light. For what we are, and for what we aren’t. To pull together in a way we’ve probably never done before.

My grief for you is that you missed out on the chance to know what else life had to offer you.

You were the centre of our family’s universe. You were a twin, a sister, a wife, a mother, a nanna, an aunt. You did what had to be done, perhaps beyond what we could rightfully expect.

You wouldn’t have it any other way, of course. And yet, you never did get the answer to your question.

Who were you, without us?


Beyond the duties and obligations that defined you, the woman I knew was creative and curious and brave. Fun loving and spirited and shrewd.

That’s the person I will drink a toast to every year.

The one whose stories I will treasure, and whose laughter I will miss.

Whose lessons I will carry to my great unknown.

So cheers to you, Aunty Barb!

You came into the world as you left it – unexpectedly. A surprise package, as you liked to say, until the end.

Who are you thankful for, today?



  1. says

    Alarna so sorry for your loss, she sounded like a real gem. Great tribute to your Auntie. Time goes by so fast and we look back and think about all the missed opportunities. Cling to your happy memories and I hope each day gets a little better.

  2. says

    Alarna I am sorry about the loss of your aunt. It’s never easy to lose a loved person.

    I think there is something to be said for being someone that at least one person mourns. She is obviously someone who is missed.

    My very best thoughts with you, Alarna.

    • says

      Yes, she left her mark on people. Though I don’t think she would have expected the large turnout she had at her funeral. We never can know the even subtle ways we impact on the world. Life is a gift xo

  3. says

    Alarna, so sorry to hear about your loss. I once read somewhere that when a person moves on, her responsibilities to make a certain number of people happy are done. She has now moved on to be the awesome aunt of some other lost young girl.
    Take care.

    Hugs and prayers,

  4. says

    So sorry for your loss, but what a wonderful post you have written here. Made me a little tearful. A close family friend of ours died last week, only in her 40s, and loss does make you appreciate what you do have doesn’t it, particularly the people.

  5. says

    Oh, sweetie! So sorry to hear about your aunt. I remember you talking about her when my mom was going through the breast cancer stuff earlier this year.

    Hey, even though you didn’t get to sit down and write her memoirs, this is such a luminous tribute to her. Sending you a warm cyber hug through my laptop!

    • says

      The hug is warmly received 🙂 I did manage to record one session with her, and she made sure I got hold of the historical documents and photos she had. No match for her stories, but her spirit will be there when I finally get to research family history xo

  6. says

    Oh Alarna. What an awful thing to lose the hub of the family that way. I’m very sorry for all of you but I’m glad you’re taking the opportunity to come together in the aftermath.

    Love and hugs, my friend.


    • says

      She was absolutely the hub. It’s such a crucial role, and while none of us are likely to replace it, at least we are willing to take turns. Thanks, as always, for your thoughtful comment xo

  7. says

    Hugs, Alarna. I turn to gratitude too when I’m feeling low. I sometimes think about the things I didn’t learn about those who have passed. Especially when something is different in my life, I wonder what my brother would think or what he’d say based on his experiences and the things he knew about life. Which is probably why I occasionally think about the stranger who was the last to talk to my brother when he suddenly had an aneurysm. Apparently my brother was talking to him and then just stopped and I wonder what their conversation had been about. But I am grateful that I had the opportunity to talk on the phone with him shortly before that–even if all we talked about was TV and peanut butter. 🙂
    I think you’ve posted a lovely, touching tribute here, Alarna.

    • says

      Thanks, Coleen. I guess death has it’s own way of giving back, and infusing the everyday moments in life with value and meaning. Just the fact that you and your brother were able to have light hearted conversations over the phone like that indicate a special kind of closeness. They are with us, just in a different way, now xo

  8. Michael says

    Dear Alarna, your words of grief for your aunt have touched me deeply. Death takes so much from us, all of the times we have yet to create memories. Your love for your mother’s sister is an incredible gift. All my sincere wishes for you and your family to always remember her for the love she gave you!

    • says

      I was lucky to have an aunt who showed such an interest in my life, and ours, collectively. It’s not an easy gig, being an aunt. Death takes away many lost opportunities, but I’ve realised, it has a special way of giving, too. Take care.

  9. says

    This is inspiring, both how you wrote it, and the person you write about. Seventy is young. Best wishes in your healing. Might have to hit a chili in the curry in Barb’s honor. (Where are you in the photo?)

    • says

      Seventy is young, indeed! The same age, ironically, that her own mother (my grandma) passed away with breast cancer. She’d love a curry cooked in her honour! I’m the one on the front right holding the bub (one of my cousin’s kids) 🙂

  10. says

    Your aunt sounds like a most special person, Alarna, and your words and feelings express heartfelt gratefulness for all she represented in your life. Today was a perfect day to share this lovely tribute.

  11. Elizabeth Reynolds McGuire says

    Aunty Barb sounds like such a beautiful – and fun – soul! I am so sorry for your loss. But what a beautiful tribute to her! xoxo

  12. says

    I’m so sorry about your aunt, Alarna. My nephew started up the Brain Tumor Alliance in Australia about 6 years ago. He was staying with us when he was 18 and was not well so we took him to he doctor to find he had a brain tumor. He has survived and brought together many people to support suffers and their families through these very tough times. My best friend also has a brain tumor and I spend most days with her. It must be so tough on your mother losing her twin – I can’t even imagine. Sending you and your family big hugs xxxxx

    • says

      Thanks so much, Dianne. What a wonderful human being your nephew is, to turn his recovery into such a gift. Brain tumours are a traumatic disease to deal with, and I’m so sorry that you are going through that with your best friend. Wish you both strength, and may the gods see fit to pull her through xo

  13. Genevieve L. Machado says

    Hey Alarna, So sorry to hear about your Aunt.

    I have selfishly forgotten to ask you about your Aunt and how you were copping. I am truly sorry. Gen

    • says

      Genevieve, there is absolutely no need for you to apologise or feel bad. It’s not something I would readily talk about, especially on a fun night out. You provide what is needed most in times like this – laughter and warm fuzz. For that, I am more grateful than you know. Big hugs xo

  14. karenmcfarland says

    Oh Alarna, I am so sorry for your loss. What a shock! But even when we know ahead of time that someone will die, it’s still a difficult thing to accept. We love life, and we want our loved one to live on. We cannot imagine picking a day to die. It just isn’t in us. I must say what a beautiful tribute. I’m so glad your wrote and shared it with us. I’m sending you lots of hugs my friend! Take care.

    • says

      The hugs are gratefully accepted! Thanks Karen. Its something I felt I needed to put into words, and I am definitely glad we at least had time with her before she went. It’s scary how fast 9 months can fly by, though. Xoxo

    • says

      It’s one of those things I’d never be able to verbalise to my family, and they mostly don’t read or have access (ie. actual internet!) to the blog. But I know we all share many of the same feelings about her passing. Thanks for your lovely comment, Nina – I always appreciate your take on things.

  15. says

    Alarna, I’m so sorry for your loss…
    I’m reading your post for the first time only now. But, what a beautiful tribute to your aunty.
    I hope you are well and I’m sending you my best thoughts and virtual hugs.

  16. says

    I’m sorry to hear about your aunt, Alarna — it sounds like you were very close with her. What you wrote about how she represents various cooking items for you almost sounds like a Cole Porter-esque song in her honor — reminiscent of “You’re The Top.” Hey, maybe that would be worth writing. I hope you have a wonderful and restful holiday season.

    • says

      Hey Chris, bit of a delayed reply on my part. Can tell you are a musician, from the fact that you picked up on the Cole Porter thing – I was channelling a bit of Ella Fitzgerald there 🙂 I’m having a busy holiday season, but it’s all for good reasons. Hope all is well with you, too, and that you are celebrating with a bang!

  17. says

    I hope all your memories of her will bring smiles to you and your family. It sounds like you can still write those memoirs. She came alive for me through your words. Sending hugs and love!

  18. says

    Thankful to everyone and anyone who passes by, or stops a while, lends a hand, or I lend a hand or two to at any time. Just thankful to it all.

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