Celebrating a Life After Loss

Image by Diane Mclarney
For Betty

April 19th is my aunt Betty’s birthday. This year she would have been 83. It has been almost 3 years now since she died from cancer.

Aunt Betty was an all around wonderful person and one of my favorite relatives when I was a kid.

She lived in a little apartment in Santa Monica, California, and was a dietitian with the Veterans Administration. Her outfits were well put together. Her jewelry and purse always matched her outfit. Purple was her favorite color and she wore lots of it. She had this big, dark blue Cadillac. One of the old ones with the super heavy doors. It took up almost two parking spaces it was so long! She dated the same man, my uncle Bob, for about 25 years and then one weekend they just eloped. She was funny, gracious, smart, classy, and all around cool.


Aunt Betty always made everyone laugh and loved being silly. When my mom, my brother, and aunt Betty got together, inevitably someone got the giggles. I remember one time…..my brother and I were sleeping over at her apartment. We woke up to find her rummaging through her closet. She had so many clothes that the weight of them broke the rod the clothes were hanging from. The crack of that wooden rod was loud enough to bring her in from the next room; however my brother and I slept right through it. Aunt Betty tried to tell us what had happened but she couldn’t stop laughing. Her laughter was contagious.

When I was a kid I always loved her visits. My family lived in Texas at one point and I don’t remember how often we saw her then. But when I was 12 we moved to Los Angeles and saw her on a regular basis. I always looked forward to Thanksgiving because she and uncle Bob would stay the weekend and that is when we would decorate the house for Christmas. To this day, that is still my favorite holiday tradition.

A First Time For Everything 

The first time I went to Disneyland and Knotts Berry Farm, aunt Betty took me. My first visit to the Pacific Ocean, aunt Betty took me. The first time I ate at Arby’s, she took me. Aunt Betty was also responsible for introducing me to Philippe’s amazing french dip sandwich. She was there when I turned 12 and got my ears pierced; and later taught me how to put on makeup when I was 15. My first experiences tasting wine, apricot brandy in orange juice, and wine coolers are all thanks to her.

Life Moves On

Eventually aunt Betty retired and moved to Tennessee to live in grandma’s old house. I missed her but was busy growing up and focusing on all the things that kids do during their teenage years and early twenties, so I didn’t really realize it at the time. Life moved on. I went to college. Got married and had kids. My parents ended up moving and living within a few hours of aunt Betty so I saw her again during the holidays. I treasure the pictures I have of her with my kids.

Then around 2012 she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had a double mastectomy, chemo and radiation. Due to her age aunt Betty chose not to have reconstruction surgery. I understood that completely. However, I was shocked to realize that she was in her seventies. It pained me greatly to realize how much time had passed and her mortality hit me like a ton of bricks.

I called her often and we would laugh together as I shared stories of things my kids did or said. After the treatments her hair started to grow back but it came in thin and wispy. She joked with me about the fact that she was using a shampoo called Big Sexy Hair. She thought it was the funniest thing. The last Christmas I spent with her aunt Betty looked like a shell of her former self. But she was still full of love and humor.

The End of Her Story

She never really regained her strength. In 2014 the cancer returned. Or perhaps it never completely left. My mom and I never knew for sure. But one day mom called me and told me that aunt Betty was in the hospital and wasn’t doing well at all. I quickly made arrangements with my husband and my work. Then I drove 6 hours to see her. I spent one night in her hospital room. Her pain was severe and she constantly cried out. It was horrible to see her in such agony. She was allowed to have pain medication every half hour if she needed it. However, the nurses were so busy with other patients that she wasn’t getting it that often. I began calling them on a regular basis with the hope that aunt Betty might find some relief. She was unable to speak to me but I believe she felt my presence as much as I still feel hers.

I spent the next night with my uncle at their home and saw how frail of mind he had become. We went through the house, full of memories of their life together. Sharing stories and crying together. Uncle Bob kept telling me that he didn’t know what he would do without her. Shortly afterwards, he would move to a VA home out of state.

I stayed long enough to see her settled into a hospice facility and then I had to return home. Under the care of hospice she was administered pain medication on a constant basis and was finally able to rest for the first time in days. Aunt Betty lasted about 5 more days before she finally passed away, on June 15th. It was Father’s Day.


Every time I see a purple flower I think of her. That is why I take so many pictures of purple flowers. I haven’t posted all of them on my Flickr page as I do try to keep some variety on my page…….But when she was being silly she would say “burple” instead of purple. Sometimes I still pronounce the color that way in my mind and smile because I still hear her laugh.

Image by Diane McLarney
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