Posted earlier on Facebook…
I am heavy with grief and impending loss and incalculable sadness. My cousin texted me earlier today, saying that she has put my aunt – my mother’s sister – into home hospice care. I have been thinking a lot about her lately, and had a feeling that she was declining. My mother was the elder sister (a circumstance she never let anyone forget), five years older than my aunt. This is right on schedule for how womenfolk on the maternal side check out.
I was always fond of my aunt. She was fun, and not as mean as my mother. I would love to know what happened between them all those years ago that would cause them to separate so drastically later in life. As my mother descended into dementia, my aunt was beginning to lose her grasp bit by bit as well, and it seemed they had both forgotten they were sisters. But when the end came from my mother, my aunt had a lot of trouble seeing her in hospice, and she wouldn’t go up to view the body at the funeral. I noticed it, even while on auto-pilot on that incredible day. My aunt was on auto-pilot just as I was.
The last time I saw my aunt, my cousin had tried to prepare me for the possibility that she wouldn’t know me. But she did, and she opened her arms wide and smiled so brightly. It was like old times, before the world turned upside down for me. I told her that I remembered her making lasagna from scratch with me, and taking me to see Rumpelstiltskin on stage when I was little. It was my first dress-up in big girl clothes outing – complete with black patent leather shoes and white gloves. I loved her so much.
I was thinking earlier that maybe dementia means that our spirits are beginning to vibrate at a higher level than our bodies, and there is no need for mental clarity. It’s a way for us to let go, I suppose – we spend most of our lives holding on very tightly to everything, even ourselves. Ah, well – it’s the human condition.
When my cousin texted, I responded with some words that included “damn this aging process, and damn this dementia”. I have been obsessed lately with the notion that I am starting down that path, but what is there to do? It is what it is. And I am what I am…full stop.
Whenever she leaves here, my aunt will signify the end of my childhood, the last person on this earth who knew me from the beginning. The person who saved my life a few years ago when I asked her why my father had stayed in that marriage for so long, and her level-eyed response: that it was because of me. That changed my life, and healed so much of what has ailed me for so long. I will never forget that moment. It took less than 10 seconds to say those words, but a lifetime of hurt was reframed, reformatted, reoriented.
I wish my aunt well on this leg of her journey. It feels sadly familiar, and I hate that, but it’s not my choice to make. I hope that she doesn’t suffer, hope that she is at peace. Godspeed, Auntie. I hope you know how much you meant to me and still do.