Meanwhile I've got some other things on my mind. One of them: The editor in chief of the magazine where I work was let go yesterday. Snow swirling outside, she called everyone into the conference room and said, "I have been asked to step down from my post and I won't fight it." I so respected that. No euphemistic talk of "leaving to pursue other opportunities." Instead she said it plain: I've been fired. Leaving here is not my choice. She got a little emotional and I teared up a little. I will miss her. Whether you agreed with her editorial decisions or not, she was unfailing good humored and kind. She treated everyone with a respect and humanity that has become increasingly rare in modern workplaces. And now, we will have an acting editor in chief for a while. Someone wondered aloud if the corporate "they" were trying to close down the magazine, so bone-thin are we at this point. It wont work if they are. The few of us left on staff know how to dig deep, and then deeper. Every one covers multiple roles now, and we will put out the magazine and keep updating the website because that's what we do. We've had several years practice at this, through successive layoffs and restructuring and leadership changes. Even so, the editor who is leaving made our work days quite a bit more pleasant by her demeanor.
There are other bigger troubles in my world.
Aunt Maisy, who is 88, is in the hospital and sinking daily. The chemo drugs finally caught up with her, thinning her blood and leaving her too weak to walk, eat, do much more than sleep. My cousin tells me that the Aunt Maisy we saw when we visited them in Virginia the week after Christmas was a vastly more vigorous soul. She says her mom's descent has been terrifyingly fast. Daily, she is trying to come to terms with the fact that her mother may be very close to the end. Her brother, a military man, was to leave the country today for a deployment overseas. Last night, after he visited his mother in the hospital, he postponed his flight. He is afraid that he won't see her again on this earth after he leaves.
All six of the sisters are slipping down now.
Aunt Fay, the baby of the family at 82, who lives in New Jersey, is just home from yet another stint in the hospital. She can barely walk, is allergic to most food, suffers night sweats and chills, and is cared for round the clock by her two daughters and son, and her three grandsons, all of them together in one home.
Aunt Beulah, 84, in Nassau, whose heart is so weak she must travel everywhere with her oxygen tank, slips in and out of her own personal memory fog, though her eyes are the most vibrant ageless blue against her glowing brown skin and her body is trim and strong and flexible from decades of playing tennis with my uncle, who is a doctor, the last living brother-in-law, who takes care of her in the most devoted and determinedly hopeful way.
Aunt Grace, 86, who lives in Toronto but is currently in Jamaica with her daughter, is battling a vicious flu, which is messing with the electrical systems of her heart. Aunt Grace, vigorous as she appears, her eyes forever dancing, has had open heart surgery, and foot surgery, and also a delicate surgery to scrape clear the carotid artery in her neck. She even had a heart attack in flight once, but she refuses to lie down and be a sick person, so she is the one visiting all her sisters, applying eyebrow pencil and lipstick and rouge to their faces, arguing with them over little things to remind them that they still care, laughing with them over their shared memories, keeping their spirits up.
Aunt Winnie, the oldest at 94, lies in her hospital bed in her apartment across the courtyard from me, cared for by home care aides, visited by her neices and her granddaughter's family, and no one else, because her friends are either dead already or too frail to travel, and besides, she can't speak words anymore. She can only stare with those still-clear eyes like brilliant green glass, steady and aware.
And my mom, 91, sitting in her chair in my brother's house in Jamaica, looking out with her one good eye at the blue-green hills. She, too, cannot move under her own steam, but has to wait for someone to come to help her out of bed, to the bathroom, to bring her meals. The physical therapist comes twice a week and walks with her down the hall, and sometimes down the stairs and back up. This is the highlight of her week, not counting, of course, when her grandchildren, ages 12 and 9, run in to her room in the mornings to greet her before leaving for school, and then again in the afternoons when they get home. Friends and family come to visit from time to time. My cousin Maureen washes her hair every week and styles it for her. My brother is very attentive. She is cared for. But still.
When I took the photograph of my mom above, on a trip to St. Lucia two years ago with my daughter, I was holding inside a deep sadness at her decline from the last time I had seen her. I look at this photograph now and remember that my mother could still move about her house with her rolling walker and conduct her business, and I realize how still vibrant she was then. Watching these six sisters age, each one releasing her grip on this world by inches and measuring her pace as she psychically shepherds the others, is the hardest thing. And yet in the way they are doing this together, calling one another each and every day, talking on the phone with Aunt Winnie even when all that comes back is her breathing, is also achingly beautiful, a sacred communion, enduring love.