Monday, December 6, 2010

Winding Down

My aunt, the 92-year-old, is in the hospital. She fell on Saturday evening. Her home care attendant had gone to run her bath, and my aunt apparently forgot she couldn't just get up and walk around, so she got up and tried. She said she was on her way to her dresser to make sure that the money she had put there earlier was still in place. She fractured two ribs when she fell and is now in intense pain.

The social workers at the hospital want to send her to rehab at a nursing home. Her sisters are divided over whether that is a good idea. My mother thinks she will get better care in a nursing home, but she worries that by the time she's ready to be discharged her current home care attendants will have been reassigned. Another sister, who visited her in the hospital yesterday and who is a nurse, says that the best thing is for her to go straight home. I am inclined to agree. My aunt gets horribly disoriented in institutions. And she starts to hallucinate men with all sorts of nefarious intentions. I don't know where this comes from. Perhaps there are chapters of her life I don't know after all.

We are trying to figure out whether to call her daughter, the addict, who is finally living elsewhere, no longer in the home where she can harass and verbally abuse her mother for money. I don't know where my cousin has got to. I haven't spoken with her in weeks. I've wanted to call and see how she is doing, but I knew she would see it as a weakening of my resolve and would set about manipulating things from there. I just didn't want to get the whole sad carnival started again.

On the other hand, her mother is in the hospital and her face is beginning to collapse on its bones. The bridge of her nose is suddenly higher and sharper, her cheekbones more pronounced, her eyes sunken deep as small caves. When I walked into her hospital room this morning she was sleeping and I was struck my how much she resembled her brother in his coffin four years ago. I had never seen any particular resemblance before, but now it was marked. The sheets were drawn up to her chin and she was so small under the covers, so pale, her hair white and soft like feathers. When she opened her eyes, she looked as if she was trying to focus them, to figure out whether I was real or if she was still dreaming. She finally decided she was awake and fixed her supernaturally clear green eyes on me. She just looked at me and said nothing. Waiting. Trusting. I wanted to cry.

I gave her water and applied chap stick and rubbed lotion into the back of her hands. Then we sat looking out at Central Park, she has an expansive view of it from her window. She wanted to know how were the finances, and I assured her they were fine. We didn't talk much after that. We just sat there, breath in, breath out, and it felt as if I was sitting with only half of her, that the other part of her was already gone, floating somewhere in the next world, biding time.

After a while I coaxed her back to sleep, stroking her hair and whispering that I would come back this evening, which I knew would make her feel less abandoned, more willing to drift back into dreams. Then I came to work and made copies of all the paperwork that I need to submit this week to certify her for home care for another year.

As I collated the pieces of paper that represent the span of her life, from her birth certificate written in 1918 to her husband's death certificate two years ago, I couldn't help wondering how many more beats were left in the pacemaker that pilots her heart. And I couldn't help wondering if that foreign piece of machinery implanted in her chest was still in fact her friend.


  1. What a thoughtful caregiver you are in the midst of your aunt's final days.

  2. Can something so sad be profoundly beautiful?
    This was .
    Hugs to you both.

    (and thank you. and the post where you noticed my eyes? did you note that I had good intentions going into Lent, and here we are in Advent. sigh.
    but , I have walked the talk as it were.

  3. From what I understand, if a person is in hospice care, they can deprogram the pacemaker.
    I have no idea if you are anywhere near ready for that sort of thing but if she is ready to go, it might be worth a thought.
    Hospice is a blessing at any rate.

    Oh honey.

  4. Wow, Angella. This is heavy and moving. But although it could be sad to think about your aunt and the last stage of her long life, it seems it is to be celebrated. From what you write she certainly has had her ups and downs but all lives do. You write about her with such tenderness and clarity. For now all we can do is breath in, breath out, repeat...

  5. Heartbreaking. I agree with you in questioning whether the pacemaker at this point is friend or foe. The best piece of news in this story is that the addict daughter will no longer be at home with her. Stay strong... you're a great friend and I'm sure a comfort, to your aunt.

  6. I'm saying a little prayer for your dear auntie tonight. Blessings and peace, my friend.

  7. In time all that we cherish slips away. Our health, our minds, our properties, even our loved ones. What remains and is everlasting is our love. Our love for others and their love for us. " God is love. And those who abide in love, abide in God. And God in them." You bless us all by sharing this.

  8. Oh, Angella. This is one of those posts where I want to say so much in response, but words just fail me.

    What I really want to do is give you a hug.

  9. a beautiful photograph, and heart-rending thoughts.
    thank you for posting this, angella.

  10. You are a beautiful writer. I'm praying for your Aunt and for you. How blessed she is to have you by her side.

  11. just sending good thoughts your way.

    you write and live so beautifully, you inspire me and give me hope.

  12. This is so poignant. I'm sorry that she, you, and your family has to go through this hard time. It reminds me so much of sitting with my mother-in-law, in the nursing home. The radio was on one day, and I heard Frank Sinatra's "My Way." The opening lines got to me:
    "And no, the end is near.
    And so I face the final curtain...."

    It drove me to the scrapbooks and photo albums, so see her path to that point.

    Take good care.
    :o) BJ

  13. I am so grateful for all the care and prayers conveyed here. It's been a tough week for my aunt but she seems to be rallying and may go home from the hospital tomorrow. As my mom would say, Jehovah Jireh.