Monday, August 23, 2010

And On This Day

Just a few days less than two years ago Auntie Blanche died. Exactly two years ago a small group of us were gathered in her room in the second nursing home eating delicious chocolate cake from Costco. She'd taken a big turn for the worse a week or so before and I really didn't know if she'd make it that far.  I was so grateful to her for allowing the rest of us this one last celebration. She clearly could have done without it. I fed her a tiny bite of cake, mostly frosting, and when she was done with it I offered her another one. "Maybe tomorrow," she said. As soon as she said that I thought she'd be dead the following day.

Had she not taken that final turn, Auntie Blanche would have been 100 years old today. After she turned 90 I had my sights set on 100. My logic brain, of course, understood that eventually she would die. My heart brain, though, had to make some sort of plan for how to handle something I could barely even consider. Without consciously deciding it I began to envision her turning 100. If we could just celebrate that, I bargained, I could let her go. Turns out, if you strip away my choices, I can do pretty much anything.

It's also hard to argue that things didn't work out exactly the way they were supposed it. It was a terrible year. Joe the Barber took his bad last turn in April but if he hadn't I wouldn't have been up north to share one last peanut butter and jelly sandwich dinner with Auntie Blanche in The Home For Old Ladies and a first unshared salad dinner in the new, hated, generic place. To paraphrase Mare Winningham in St. Elmo's Fire, "It was the best peanut butter and jelly sandwich of my life."

Auntie Blanche would have loved Eddie. She would gladly have plied him with snausages to keep him in her lap. His crying and whining wouldn't have aggravated her, she would have talked him into comfortable silence. His ridiculous head cocking would have made her laugh and laugh. She had a great laugh.

The stories I've heard about Auntie Blanche's childhood haven't been wonderful. They don't compute because she had such a strong hand in creating the best of childhood memories for so many of us. I suppose there's no way to make up for feeling unappreciated by one's mother but if there was I hope the love of all those she left behind would have done so. We were lucky to have her until she was 98 and, I know logically, that even 100 wouldn't have been enough for me. Someone recently asked me if my parents were ok, health-wise. I had to ask her to repeat herself because I didn't understand the question. In my, admittedly freakishly lucky, experience being in one's early 70s is hardly old at all. I am continually brought up short to realize how sadly untrue that is for most people. So I don't know if you can understand how perfectly vital and "with it" Auntie Blanche was up to the abrupt drop off a few months before her death. If you can possibly understand that then you can understand what a shock it was bound to be for all of us to see her decline so quickly. She was 97, what did we expect? She was extraordinary, anything might have happened.

I told someone yesterday that I don't have any idea what, if anything, will happen to me when I die but I can't help thinking that when dogs die they go somewhere that offers all their favorite things. While I know the ChemE's Sienna and my Emily wouldn't create a favorite place without us, I like to think of them lying at Auntie Blanche's feet, getting up only briefly to take from the endless supply of treats in her hands.

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