Monday, September 5, 2011

All of it

Last night, we returned home from the college tours, and all the aunts had arrived in New York, all of them flying in for Aunt Winnie's birthday on Wednesday, she will be 93, all the aunts and my mother sitting around their oldest sister's hospital bed, deeply aware of the imminent goodbye. Aunt Winnie barely acknowledges them now, as if the effort is too great. Mostly she screws her eyes shut and sleeps furiously, curling closer and closer into herself, her knees bent almost to her chest, her arms crossed tightly, shutting out all the commotion, braced against her pain. When I walk in, though, and she hears my voice, she opens her eyes and stares at me, just stares steadily, a kind of waiting in the clear green depths of her pupils that makes me ache something fierce. I am the one she knows best now, me and my cousin, the poli sci professor who is her other power of attorney and health proxy. We have been the constants in her life these last few years, the ones she trusted to do for her. She trusts us still. She feels safe when either one of us is there. I feel both gratified and guilty about that. I told my husband, "I have been there for her, but I could have done better." And now the chance to do better at so many things is lost.

I stroke her hair, which she likes, and her eyelids flutter back closed and she drifts back to the internal landscape she mostly inhabits now, but she is less coiled, her limbs loosening slightly. The home attendant adjusts her dress, the pillows under her head, the large sponge booties on her feet. I feel such a rush of love for her, for the way she has cared for my aunt, for the way she cares for my mother when she is in my aunt's home, as she was this weekend while we walked around college campuses in another town.

My cousin, the poli sci professor, brought Aunt Winnie's daughter Pearl (not her real name) to visit last week. We asked her brother to allow her to come to the apartment despite the restraining order he has against her, with good cause. We didn't think we could live with ourselves if we didn't facilitate Pearl seeing her mother at least one more time before she dies. Pearl was well groomed that evening but still a little bit high, not enough to be slurring and stumbling, just enough to be loud and grandiose. She seemed not to notice her mother's recent precipitous decline, or rather, she didn't remark on it. Her mother did perk up in her presence, she snatched back some of her alertness it seemed, her eyes following Pearl's every movement, a habit of many decades of living with her unpredictable and addicted daughter, or maybe it was a mother's unquenchable love. 

Last night, there was so much need. After Aunt Winnie slept off again, the needs of the other old folks asserted themselves, bags to be unpacked, beds to be made and turned down, meals to be prepared and laid out, dishes to wash and put away, baths to be had. My mother is 89, and the other two aunts who are in town for the week are also in their high eighties. They are frail, all of them, though greatly strengthened by one another. Still, when I was done with all the feeding and bathing and helping them get ready for bed, I fled to my own home, about to explode with tiredness. I walked into my bedroom where my husband was, and I sank into the chair and began to cry. "I am so tired," I whispered, and he said, "I know," which was the exact best thing for him to say, and right then, my daughter jumped up in the living room, calling, "Mama, you're home! I need a hug!" And I said, "Oh, baby, I need one, too," and she ran into my arms and we hugged each other tight, laughing and rocking from side to side, and I thought how blessed I am by all of it, surely I am the luckiest woman on earth. 


  1. Why is life so hard and so tearing of our hearts and why is the end so like it is and what would we do without the love to hold us up and in stroking her hair, you have done everything right now and you are doing everything and you have done everything and do not think you have not.
    I wish I could hug you. Hold you tightly and whisper in your ear- say, "You are doing the best job. You are making her journey filled with love."

  2. Oh my...I see my future in this post. I hope I have your strength and courage when my dad is at this stage. My mantra is "It is a honor and a privelige."..We only think we could have done better because we know more now of how this works...thank goodness for husbands that "know". I too feel like i am the luckiest girl in the world...always have and always will.

  3. dear ms. moon, i can hear your whisper and feel that hug. love.

    aint for city gals, with that mantra, you will be everything your dad needs, and you are lucky to have each other. thanks for being here.

  4. Oh Angella. I'm so glad she has you.

  5. I have seen my own parents off to their final rest, so I know how it is. We could always do more, we could always tell them more how much we love them, we could always be there more often. But life is NEVER like that.

    Ms Moon says it all so much better than me. I wish you well.

    p.s. I had a grandmother and an aunt, both who had the first name 'Lister'.

  6. I would trust you too like that, with my well being. I see how strong and also how vulnerable you are and I raise my heart in knowing that people like you exist strong but not walled in vulnerable but not weak. You continue to amaze.

  7. Wow Angella. You are mother, daughter, wife, and niece, and you do a great job at it all.
    You are your aunt's greatest supporter. And you should have no regrets, because you balanced all of this where others might have refused the responsability.
    This, it seems, is a tough moment in your life, with her declining health. Please take a moment everyday for yourself. And while she is leaving, she is still here. You can still talk to her. I found myself saying the most important thing to my aunt minutes before she left us. No regrets.
    Have a good day and enjoy the family reunion.

  8. "Last night, there was so much need." I love that sentence, and I feel it so intensely.

  9. i love your family. they're always right on time :)

  10. The end can be so sad and slow. Thank you for your honest and beautiful post.

  11. I think women are some of the most amazing creatures. We give so much of ourselves for others - to nurture and care and love. And we know, like your daughter did, when one of our own needs the same.
    There is a reason your aunt knows when you're in the room.

  12. That bone-tired exhaustion comes from loving so hard. You do it so well, sweet friend, and I am grateful that you also have a daughter who knows how to do it just as well. That is a blessing amongst so many blessings. And allowing "Pearl" to visit with her mother despite her inexcusable behavior from last time(and many times before that) was a tender mercy on everyone's part. Just as my grandmother saw me as more of a daughter than a granddaughter, your Aunt Winnie views you as the same. There is so much responsibility, loyalty but mostly love that comes with a relationship like that.

    I wish that I could be there to give you a big hug and bring you a big basket of delicious goodies to soothe your soul. You are doing the very best that you can and that is always enough.

    Big hugs and so much love.

  13. Thank you for this beautiful, true and touching post. I'm full of empathy and love for you and yours. A little weepy, too. This passage is not an easy one. But I can't imagine anyone doing it with more grace, strength and love than you. Sending extra hugs, even though your daughter has you covered.