My aunt died this past summer.
If you’re like me, you’ll stop reading right now. I strongly dislike sob-story tear-jerker things. Some people are strangely drawn to stories of tragedy and loss. I’m drawn to fun, interesting stories.
This is not intended to be a tear-jerker, but hopefully it is interesting!
My aunt’s name was Frances, but we all called her “Auntie.” We call her our “aunt” (not “ant”), but we pronounce “Auntie” like “Ant-ee.” I don’t know how this got started, but it was before my time, so don’t blame me.
Auntie was my mom’s only sibling. My mom died on May 2, 2001, which was my grandma’s birthday, and was just two days before Mom’s sixty-ninth birthday. Auntie was a special connection to Mom, the closest surviving relative other than my dad and siblings.
Arthritis robbed Auntie of her golden years, confining her to her apartment on “water tank hill” in town for years. She never married, nor did she drive. Auntie lived with my grandma until she passed away in 1987.
After years of living as a shut-in, Auntie finally ended up in a nursing home four years ago. Usually that’s a sign that the end is near, but as it turns out, this was a new beginning for her. She flourished in the social atmosphere. The staff absolutely loved her—I had several students who worked there, and they’d exclaim, “Ohh, Frances is so sweet!” when I told them she was my aunt. Though the arthritis had crippled her body, her mind was still sharp, which as you probably know is kinda rare in a nursing home.
My siblings and I were the only family she had, other than a cousin in Wisconsin, so she cherished any visits we paid, which, for some of us tended to be rare. It’s tough, because life is so busy, and we still have our dad to spend time with, so Auntie tended to get less attention. Some of us also struggled with the fact that Mom died in the room across the hall from Auntie’s at the nursing home. Visits had a tendency to dig up painful memories.
Things went along like this most of the time Auntie was at the nursing home. Then, this spring, she started to decline. We noticed when we visited her at Easter. She seemed a little “out of it” and disconnected.
A few weeks later, my sister Joyce contacted everyone to tell us Auntie had possibly suffered a heart attack and was in the hospital. This was a shocker, but even more so was the news that soon followed, sent via a group text message: “They think she’s dying.”
At eighty-nine years old, that shouldn’t be too shocking, yet it seems one is never prepared for news like that. We all rushed to her bedside, where she had been returned to her room at the nursing home. Memories of Mom came rushing back as I looked at her shriveled, unresponsive form. I got emotional, but realized it had more to do with Mom than Auntie.
I loved my aunt, but was impacted more emotionally by the fact that losing her seemed like losing a special connection to my mom.
After an emotional couple of days, Auntie surprised us by bouncing back. She became lucid again, and we could converse with her, albeit in a more halting manner. Still, I was so thankful to have her “back,” and to be able to interact with her again before she left us for good.
She spent another couple weeks in this condition before slowly slipping away. Joyce spent most of her waking hours with Auntie, which was remarkable. I got in there when I could, but it wasn’t easy.
Finally, we got word that the end was imminent. Late on a Saturday morning, we returned to the nursing home. I paused to look at her name on the directory inside the front doors, knowing this would probably be the last time I’d see it there.
We strolled by the common living room area where we had sometimes visited with Auntie Sunday mornings after church. We passed the dining room where we’d sat with her in the sunshine, past the lady in a wheelchair who’s always holding a stuffed animal, down the hall to the room across the hall from where Mom died.
There lay Auntie, amid her few remaining worldly possessions and pictures of family, looking again like Mom at the end. Joyce was sitting at her side, gently stroking her hand and hair, and speaking softly to her. Auntie’s Bible sat open—Joyce would often read it to her.
We said a few things to Auntie—I don’t remember what—and settled in to wait. The kids eventually went out into the hall to play “Minecraft” on the Kindle. We chatted with Joyce about nothing too important. I was trying to affix a screen protector to Kendra’s new cell phone when we noticed she wasn’t taking breaths. There had been some long pauses between them, but this pause seemed longer. Joyce and I looked at each other with expressions I can’t describe, but that communicated the question, “Is this it?”
As it turns out, it was. Kendra actually saw her die, though at the time she didn’t realize it. She had drawn a breath, and then her mouth twitched, and then she didn’t move.
I had never been with anyone when they died. We had gone home to sleep when Mom passed. I was always kinda scared of it, wondering what it would be like. I hope this doesn’t sound morbid, but it was really cool.
Auntie was ready to go. She’d suffered long enough with a body that was becoming more and more of a burden. She knew Jesus, and was ready to be with Him. It was so peaceful when it happened—she wasn’t in pain or anything. Like my mother-in-law (who’s a nursing home chaplain in another town) said, “Sometimes you can almost hear the angels’ wings!”
We went through the customary stuff one does with something like this. I was choked up through the entire funeral, again with memories of Mom and my childhood (the funeral was in the church in which I grew up and where we also said goodbye to Mom). It was so encouraging to hear Auntie’s chaplain speak, telling how seriously she took her faith, rarely missing a Bible study or worship service. My heart leapt as he said emphatically, “Frances loved the Lord!” She was very Lutheran and kept to herself about spiritual things, so it was encouraging to hear that.
I wish we would’ve spent more time with Auntie, but I cherish the memories of her, my grandma, and Mom.
I've included some old blogs along with the new. Should you ever find yourself suffering from insomnia, this is the place for you! That's as poetic as I get...