To My Aunt Jo,

Joanne Garrison on her wedding day. Age 23.


Hey Poetics Project followers,

I apologize for my lack of posts over the past two weeks. Maybe you noticed, maybe you didn’t. I’ve been dealing with some unfortunate circumstances, which I’m sure some of you have experienced as well. I’m writing this post from 30,000 feet above the ground on a flight headed to Philadelphia; I am on my way to be with my aunt at her bedside as she slowly slips away from this life, being taken away by a vicious cancer that started four years ago in her rectum and has since spread throughout her body. It is hard to think of anything else or go about my day normally knowing that she is on her death bed. I am anxious to see her, but I am also very scared of what awaits me on the other end of this flight. I have been trying to put into words what I am feeling, but, as many of you know, it is not always easy to put into words the things we are feeling. I even tried to find some quotes to write here in order to explain my feelings for me, but nothing really seems to fit.

My father, Bill, and his little sister, Joanne. 1960.


I guess what follows is what I would say at my aunt’s funeral, but she doesn’t want a funeral because she doesn’t want us to be sad. Nonetheless, here’s what I would say:

On October 4, 2007, I was 17 years old, and my father delivered what would be the some of the worst news I would ever hear in my life: I had his disease. A hereditary disease that would never go away. When he couldn’t calm me down, he called his sister, my Aunt Jo, and she told me something that I will never forget: you will get through this because Bellows children are strong. If I can get through it, you can get through it. And, I’m alive today, so you will live, too.

What I will miss most about Aunt Joanne is her ability to make me smile on days when I don’t even want to be alive; we share the same disease, which, for her, turned into cancer, and she has been my go-to person whenever having this disease has gotten too difficult. My father and brother have this disease too, but it’s different when you talk to a woman who isn’t your mother. I don’t know why exactly, but it just is. I remember when she first was diagnosed with cancer in 2009. I had an ostomy at the time she was going through chemotherapy and radiation, so she and I were very close because we were both in and out of the hospital, as well as dealing with severe depression. We kept each other grounded, and, perhaps, alive. She had begun online dating before her diagnosis, and the guy who she’d been dating was frightened by “the big C,” as she called it.  She gave me strength throughout the past four years because she was the one who taught me to say what I think and feel, and be honest about my illness from the beginning because someone not being able to handle my disease was a bad excuse for someone to not get close to me. She reminded me that my disease and I were not the problem; the problem was the people who were too afraid of my illness to get to know me on a normal, non-sick level. She gave me strength when I needed it most, and I feel I’m losing it these days.

All of the siblings together. Kristine, Donald, Joanne, Bill. July 1990.


I started writing this post on the airplane, and I now continue it from the kitchen in her house. My cousin and his girlfriend are napping on the couch, my dad is downstairs, my uncle is at the store, and my aunt is in her bed, where she’s been for weeks, dying. It’s surreal. What makes me the angriest is my inability to go in her room and see her. I like to say that I’m not afraid of anything, but I’m afraid of going into her bedroom because I don’t want to face reality. It’s like I’m waiting for her to get better, get out of bed, and walk down the hall to have a cup of coffee at the kitchen table with me so we can bitch and joke about cancer and our dumb hereditary disease and people who complain about their lives when they’re not even dealing with a lifelong, painful disease that just takes more and more of you, year after year. It’s silly, but it’s how we’ve always been. And her inability to get better is what is killing me inside, as well as my inability to be brave enough to speak about everything that is happening. The only thing that helps me is writing about it. So, thank you, Poetics Project readers, for reading this. I don’t know how to express myself other than in writing.

– Allison Bellows

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