Dec 7, 2014

Final Goodbye

Aunt Marilyn and Andy

The holidays have been a special kind of hell for me since I was a child. Where others see the warm glow of candles and fireplaces set against the crisp cold winter air or sparkling crystal snow banks, I feel the bittersweet memories of loved ones lost and no longer here to make the holidays into the ideal that is shoved down our throats ad nausem while the sacred is made profane for the glory of profit. I haven't been Christian since I was 13 years old, but I haven't lost an understanding of what Christmas, and even Thanksgiving, were supposed to celebrate.

November 24, 1976 my father died. I was 10 years old and this began the struggle with what can be a very emotional time for me. I have grown up and the scars healed over, but Thanksgiving has ever since given me a hollow feeling that I fight to conquer in an effort not to ruin the holiday for everyone else. I have failed many times over the years and each time it amplifies the hollowness I feel. We lost our beloved 92 year old grandmother in October of 2002, just over two months after we lost our eldest sibling, the kind and truly beautiful Linda, from an evil cancer that ate its way through her brain and lungs. Two years ago, our brother David, a generous, albeit incredibly hard man, was destroyed by a variety pack of illnesses on New Year's Eve, adding another layer of melancholy to our holiday cake of sorrow.  

Two and a half hours ago, they removed my Aunt Marilyn's breathing tube and started the morphine drip meant to help ease her into Elysian fields as painlessly as can be done. This final leg of her journey began a very long two weeks ago when she suffered a brain aneurysm in her kitchen and was airlifted to a hospital in a nearby town. Although we prepared to fly out to see her immediately, we were told to wait while the situation was assessed. Anxious and fearful, we started to make plans to fly out to see her again, but were again rebuffed, and we started to question whether we were being told to wait for the reasons given (too many people there already and chaotic atmosphere with everyone in and out of her room all day), or if there was another reason we were not welcome. We changed the date of our tickets to accommodate dates we were told we could be of use, then we were blind-sided by the truth. We were informed that her husband did not want us there and when he was questioned about this directive, he blew up and started yelling. We were told that Mom's presence would "agitate" her semi-conscious sister. The uncle that relayed this message seemed genuinely baffled, but he also expressed that our presence could elicit another similar reaction from my aunt's husband. Ultimately, the reasons we were not welcome are unimportant. The blow delivered with that news was shattering. Mom and I would not be allowed to help in any way (other than to stay away) and if the worst happened, we would not have the chance to say goodbye. In the interim, we received photos of her sitting up in bed with assistance and heard that she was able to respond to some questions and that she knew who she was, but did not understand why she was in the hospital. 

When the news coming to us seemed to portend that she would not survive, we talked of how to deal with the funeral/memorial. It seemed pointless to attend a function meant to comfort the family of the loved one especially when our presence at the critical juncture when we might have had a chance to whisper our love and our goodbyes to her was denied. In the two weeks since this ordeal started, not one call or text was answered by her husband. Any news we have gotten has come from her brother or son. Yesterday, we were told that they would remove life support today and that she could live for a few hours or a few days. We were also told that her husband, "is OK with you coming now." For a brief time we considered going to her side, but with the knowledge that the brain damage had worsened and that her morphine would be increased for her comfort, it seemed pointless to rush two weeks too late to be with to her when she draws her last breath and she is completely unaware of the people around her. 

Times like this make you remember so many things. I remember wanting to attend my cousin's graduations, and being told by my aunt not to come because there were too many people already going. I offered to stay in a hotel, but I was still not welcome. I remember being in the hospital dying from multiple organ failure due to lupus and not having anyone in that part of the family come to see me, in spite of my aunt being an ER nurse for more than 30 years. I remember going to South Carolina when my uncle from another branch of my family died and wanting to see my cousin, who lived/worked only 30 minutes away, but still cancelled plans to pick us up at the airport, then informed us he could not see us any other time during our visit, because he had a party to attend. I was wounded each time, but each time I forgave the slight and carried on as though it had not hurt my heart. I have always accepted that this branch of my family was emotionally stunted and did not care about me as much as I did them. Over the years, I have let them go little by little and now I will let go a little more, because I realize that the man I called uncle had no feeling for me at all and harbored disdain for my mother. At any one of these times, I might have woken to the fact that our family is broken, but I didn't see then that this particular branch is diseased to the point of not being able to function as a family outside of their nuclear unit. It is completely unable to give or receive support in the most difficult times of pain or to share the most wonderful times of joy. At least not with us. 

Going forward, I want to remember my aunt for all of the wonderful talks we had. I will remember her for the incredibly good person she was. I will remember her as the glamorous Auntie Mame that she always saw herself as. I will remember the trips to get our hair done, browsing the jewelry counter and picking out the little gold filigree ring she bought me for my 16th birthday. I will remember her amazing cooking skills, the way she mixed bottles of salad dressing to perfection, baked and filled airy cream puffs and the afternoon we baked peanut butter cookies together. I made some last week and as I pressed the criss-cross pattern into the dough, the memory of that afternoon in her kitchen came flooding back to me. I will remember her in cocktail olives and onions, and when I see a martini glass. She will be in my heart when I see floral sun dresses and Mexican dresses on svelte, stylish women who look like they are enjoying life. When I finally visit Spain, I will think of her there and how much I wish I had gotten the chance to visit her when she lived there. 

I am going to miss you, Aunt Marilyn. You are the only aunt I ever had and you were a great one. I wish we had lived closer, or visited more often. I wish that at the end of your life we had been welcome to come help care for you. The lump in my throat finally burst today and I was able to cry for you, and and for the loss of you. You are in my heart and I will always love you and remember the best of you. 

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