Unapologetically herself

Gunce Arkan
4 min readDec 7, 2021

We lost my aunt last night to a decade long struggle with cancer. Her will to live was so strong that she even lasted until her son was able to cross continents to be at her bedside. Alongside multitudes of friends and family, she will be mourned deeply by that son, Akin, whom my aunt called every single day of her life. And by her sister, Itir, my mother, who loved her beyond reason.

My aunt was a complex woman. Anyone who says otherwise, did not know her very well. She was difficult and charming and full of ideas that led to an unquenchable thirst for life, for joy, for anything that sparked even fleeting happiness. She spoke three languages beautifully and fluently. She was cultured, a lover of Mozart, well-travelled and an avid reader. As a pharmacist, she had encyclopedic knowledge of diseases and drugs, that rivaled many doctors. She frequently and freely diagnosed and treated the masses (often penniless) who wandered in to her pharmacy, curing ills and aches, keeping diabetes at bay, treating rashes and fevers.

She was also an early adopter of all sorts of wondrous technology, never far from whatever gadget that she could not bear to not own immediately. In the early 1980s, she spent hours on a transistor radio well before the internet became a thing, sharing stories with strangers near and far. She liked to connect to people, whoever they may be, whatever the medium.

She loved her dogs. She spoiled her dogs. When we foisted the stray, Cupcake, on her one summer, she took her in without complaint or comment and Cupcake repaid her back by never leaving her side, not even when she was too weak to walk her or feed her or even pet her any longer.

My aunt was a feminist long before it was acceptable and long after it become unfashionable. She was fiercely Turkish, with a deep and abiding love for her country and the potential it has. A potential she marched for even when her spine was riddled with cancer, still carrying her flag proudly.

Honestly, the best I can describe my aunt is that she was like a sudden rain shower, both refreshing and unexpected, jarring and altering anyone in her path. She was always unapologetically herself. You can’t fight a rain shower, you can either flee from it or let it drench you.

More often than not, it was best to get drenched.

Yet, even now, as I write this with tears streaming down my face, at 3:14am, all I can remember is the cool of her hands as she felt my seven year old forehead for a fever. I remember the lengths she went to make the nearly dozen friends I took to Istanbul during a college back-packing trip feel welcome. I chuckle at the daringly low cut dress she wore to my wedding. “When you’ve got them, baby, you be sure to flaunt them.” I remember her letting my sister and I play dress-up in her cavernous closet, covered in a cloud of the latest Parisian perfume. But most vividly, most importantly, I think on how my mother loved her big sister. How tight she held on through the years, no matter the distance, no matter the chaos. Always willing to offer her hand, her heart, out first. And I am so proud of my mother, for teaching us all that for family, you just go ahead and always take that extra step, with love, with compassion…And you take it over and over again. As often as is needed. It was, and remains, the greatest lesson I’ve ever learned in my life, and one that I will carry with me and teach my own children.

I would like to believe that now my aunt has joined my uncle in a happy place. Reunited again, they are at peace, surrounded by music, art, the latest tech and lots and lots of dogs.

Nur içinde yat, Teyzem.

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Gunce Arkan

Unwilling infertility expert. Wife. Mother. Sister. Daughter.