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This I Believe - Episode 15

Iyal Basen
Iyal Basen lives in New York and goes to Guilderland High School. He lives with his parents and his brother. Iyal adores musical theatre and is in his high school’s production of Hairspray. Iyal also particularly loves to sing and dance.


By Iyal Basen

At my aunt’s funeral two years ago, I was overcome by sadness. This was something that I had never felt before. From that day on I learned that one has to appreciate everything he has because one never knows, when he will lose it. Before that day I had never realized that my aunt and I had this unique relationship, different from that of her sisters, her children, and her estranged husband.

When my aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1998, our entire family dynamic changed. This was just after a cousin of ours died of the same ailment. This greatly worried my entire family. Upon hearing this news, my grandparents cancelled their trip to Italy to be with their daughter.

Over the next 12 years, my aunt endured countless chemotherapy treatments, multiple medications, trips to Dana Farber, and a mastectomy. While my aunt was suffering, her daughters, my cousins, had to learn to take care of themselves, forcing them to grow up too fast, which caused some harsh feelings to emerge.

In 2009, my aunt came to live with us after she and her husband separated. During that year she and I developed a relationship, as I watched her sitting day after day on the couch watching TV. The only thing that got her out of the house was her doctor’s appointments, dates with friends, The Friendship Circle, an organization for Jewish people with special needs, and Gilda’s Club, an organization for people who have cancer and their families.
At the Friendship Circle, per the request of my mother do some volunteer work, my aunt met one of the greatest people on earth: Liba Andrusier. Andrusier found something in my aunt that I never saw myself: charity. My aunt had the desire to help others. Anything Andrusier asked my aunt to do she did without any contest. My aunt did anything she could to help with The Friendship Circle.

My relationship with my aunt really developed in the summer of 2009. We sat and watched TV together, her favorite activity. We watched the Food Network, and HGTV, and we talked about the pop culture news, saying, “Who Cares!” when Lindsay Lohan went to rehab again, or when the Kardashians were dating another sports player. These are moments that I will always treasure. I remember our religious family dinners with her and my other aunts rolling their eyes as the seder reached its second hour, and still no dinner. At those dinners she would comments like, “We’re not Orthodox Joni (my mother’s name). Let’s eat!”

In August 2009, my aunt moved in to her own apartment after many months of looking. She wanted something with an in unit washer, which really kept her from finding a place for a while. Eventually, she found an apartment and I helped her move in. When we were finished moving my aunt in, my mother and I worried that she would not feed herself well enough, or that something would happen to her and we would not know. These are typical Jewish Mother complexes, that we develop in my family. We periodically checked on her, giving her dinner and such.
In March 2010, my aunt started having problems with her legs. It turned out that the cancer had spread to her leg bones and was now wearing them away, causing her pain. She could not walk, she went to the doctor and he said that she had to have surgery. The doctor said that my aunt should have rods put in her legs, to restrengthen them. My aunts (her sisters), my mother, and my grandmother all tried to convince her that she should not go through with the surgery. My family was afraid that she would not make it, she was too weak to recover properly. My aunt went through with the surgery anyway. She never did recover.

On March 16, our worst suspicions were realized. My aunt was dying. My grandparents were in a race against the clock to get here from Florida before she died. However, they did not make it in time.

On March 18 we had my aunt’s funeral. During the service I was fine. But, when we were about to put her in the ground, I completely lost it. I started balling, pressing myself against my father’s chest. I could not stop crying. I could not stand that my grandparents and my cousins, my aunt’s daughters, were not crying. As I watched her coffin being lowered in to the ground, I felt as though my eyes had run out of tears, I could not cry anymore. After all the proper blessings had been said, the attendees of the funeral began taking dirt and putting it in to the grave, as is the custom. I could not do it. My grandmother told me, “It’s like putting a loved one to bed.” At that moment, I ran back to the car and waited for my parents to drive me to Shiva, a traditional after funeral occurrence where people bring food for the grieving family.

At the Shiva I pressed my cousins about why they were not crying. They told me, “At least she is not in pain anymore.” As they watched her suffer for 12 years I can understand this. However, what I cannot understand is why they would not let my cousins, my brother, and I speak at her funeral. My aunt meant something to us as well, not just my aunt’s daughters and sisters. I still have not forgiven them for that. If I had been able to speak at her funeral I would have talked about how we were friends, she was a pal and a confidant, she understood me and I understood her. We cooked together and laughed together. That the relationship between us was a very special and unique bond.

During the weeklong Shiva I watched all these people remembering my aunt, they all had their stories, and we laughed and cried together. It was then I realized, why didn’t I see this special relationship I had with my aunt when she was alive? Why am I only seeing this now? I do not have the answers. However, I do know that you have to appreciate what you have while you have it, because you never know when it will be taken from you.


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