Sunday, March 4, 2007

Oh Bother!

My Great-Aunt Evelyn lived to be close to 90. My grandmother, Thelma, was two years older than Evelyn. Thelma lived to be 95. Both of them were outdone by the eldest child, my Great-Aunt Elva, who lived to be 102 or 103. She was the most evil in a family of sweet people. On the one hand, you have to wonder why she should get to live so long. On the other hand, given how she lived the last eight or so years of her life, you don’t wonder it so much.

This is not a story about the evil Elva, though. This is a story about the sprightly, quite forgetful Evelyn. I had the pleasure of seeing the three sisters a number of times when I first graduated from college. I lived in Massachusetts for about a year, and that’s where my grandma (Thelma) and Elva lived. We would take road trips to visit Evelyn in New Hampshire, or she would somehow find her way down to stay with Elva or Thelma, and I would see them all together then.

When my father died several years later, I saw the three sisters at least once a year, making the trek from California to Massachusetts to try to step in for Thelma’s dead son, my dad. They were a hoot together. Well, a “hoot” if you enjoyed sibling dissatisfaction never subsiding well into old age. Each was set in her own ways, and any disruption would cause noses to be bent out of the shape. But when one could barely hear (Elva) and one could barely remember from one moment to the next (Evelyn), the hardiest of the three, my dear Thelma, ruled the roost.

I’m sure Evelyn had lived on her own for some time before moving into a senior housing high-rise in New Hampshire. I don’t recall her house, but I can remember her apartment. She seemed to be thriving there at first. She even hooked up with the very suave Armand. They appeared to love each other, in that well-into-their-eighties style. Meeting for community breakfasts, lunches, dinners, card games, bingo, etc. He cared for her and was adrift when she had her stroke. [When she ultimately died, he mourned briefly and then took up with another needy old woman. It was his calling. And he was fortunate to have in his favor the overwhelming ratio of women to men at that age.]

I went to visit Evelyn after her stroke. She looked just as I always thought she looked. She was healthy as she always was. She should have been able to recover and go on. But that wasn’t what happened. One thing she lost was her ability to communicate her needs. She couldn’t even indicate “yes” or “no.” Her frustration was so damn evident. Decades later, I can see her clearly.
And I can hear her, too. She was able to say just two words. They were her signature words, too. She’d said them her whole life. She had said them so much throughout her life that they were her only two words near the end of her life, and she said them again and again. They weren’t the names of her sisters or her children or her dead husband or her boyfriend.

Seeing her at the end of her life, hearing her at the end of her life, I walked away hoping I don’t find my end in the same way. Given how much I curse, I know that, if I were to find myself where she was, those around me would hear much harsher words than “Oh bother!”

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