I have quite a large family, my Mum is one of seven kids and my Dad one of five. However, the older I got the less I saw of my extended family. As kids we were always going to visit aunties and uncles and my sisters were quite close to some of our cousins (I didn't have any my age so I was always either hovering around the older kids or looking after the younger ones). As time went by things changed - couples split up, family members were disowned for being complete twats, others were just a little too strange or feral to make the effort. Now I very rarely see any of my extended family and it doesn't particularly bother me that much.
Christian's family on the other hand are very very close. His mother is a triplet and over the years he and his mum have lived with one aunt or another at times or lived just down the road. Christian's cousins are more like his sisters than cousins, and it was rare for a day or two to go by without them seeing someone. When I met Christian 14 years ago I was welcomed into his family and they became my own extended family. From the beginning I could always tell his Mum from the others but it took me a couple of meetings to tell his aunties apart and even longer to distinguish their voices on the phone. We've moved away now and so Christian and I don't see his family anywhere near as often as we used to but his Mum saw her sister's almost every day and if she didn't see them in person, they spoke on the phone. For 63 years they had almost unbroken contact, something that normal siblings rarely have. I mean, I'm close with my sisters but sometimes a week or two will go by before I speak to them.
So what happens when three becomes two? One of Christian's aunties was diagnosed with cancer in the beginning of the year but she had been sick for rather a long time before that. A combination of keeping the fact she was so ill quiet and also having Gall Bladder cancer which is extremely rare made the diagnosis late in coming. But apparently even if it had been caught straight away, there would have been little they could do and so the sisters soildered on.
Her condition worsened and then last Wednesday she passed away.
It was not an easy passing. My MIL had always said she wasn't so upset about the fact that her sister would die but what she would go through before she did. And from the snipets of details we've heard it was worse than anyone imagined. When a family sits around just hours after her death and laments the lawlessness of euthanasia, it's obvious that no one should have gone through so much before the end.
The grief that followed was unimaginable. I've had those thoughts that everyone has in those dark hours - what would it be like to lose a partner or parent or sister? I'm not as close with my sisters as I once was, but even so, we are still close. I live just 15 minutes away from them both and see them whenever I can. And I know that I would be devastated if one of them were to pass away but the truth is, we just don't have and never could have, the bond that triplets would share. I can only guess but I'm sure if would be like losing a limb - a loss that physically hurts and can never ever be replaced. Christian's aunty said that she will be sad every single day from now till she dies, she doesn't think she could ever be completely happy again. People often comically describe the crying of others as 'howling' but I had never understood the meaning of that phrase until my MIL broke down. It was a primal, soul destroying, outpouring of grief. It broke my heart.
We have a memorial service for her today, just family and a few close friends, a celebration of the life that was lost and the joy that she brought to those who knew her. We'll share the memories that have stayed with us the strongest. And I'll dwell on the fact that I'll never again get to see the look on people's faces as they try to figure out what exactly it is they're seeing when they see three identical women walking down the street towards them.