Thursday, June 12, 2008

Marie (Irving Berlin)

My Aunt Marie (my mother's sister) has been in the hospital since Sunday morning - my mom, brother and sister have been by her side around the clock, taking turns spending the night. Marie has been diagnosed with congestive heart failure - her doctors believe she also suffered a stroke... and now pneumonia has set in.

She hasn't eaten in four days - although they have been giving her morphine to ease the pain, she is still agitated and frustrated... because she isn't able to communicate nor to understand what is going on. They are moving her to a hospice center this afternoon - I will be flying up first thing Saturday morning to widen the circle of family...

Marie is my mother's sister, two years older (turning 80 this September) - I love hearing the stories of her early life, how glamorous and carefree she was, all the photos showing a shapely, mischievous woman with red lips and an ever-present cigarette. Her dating life was legendary and she finally settled down with B, older and previously married with two daughters - she gave birth to a son soon after and, at the age of 37, had a debilitating stroke, which paralyzed the entire right side of her body. My mom flew up to Minnesota to be with Marie and to help take care of Brad, her child, who was almost 2 - it quickly became obvious that extensive physical and speech therapy would be necessary... so mom brought Brad home to live with us (I was 10 at the time).

Marie moved to New York to live with my grandmother... and my parents legally adopted Brad 4 years later - I was thrilled to have a younger brother (as I still am, even now that he has grown into adulthood). He didn't think it a bit unusual to have two moms, one in the house and one long-distance. Marie would visit us, as well as send Brad cards for special occasions (birthdays, Christmas, graduations... including from the Marine Corps) - her speech remained halting and her motor skills shaky, but we loved the game of figuring out what she was trying to say as she sounded out each syllable, and she would beam with pleasure when her efforts and our powers of deduction would come together for a successful sentence (whew!).

When my Nana died, Marie moved to a nursing home in Atlanta, where my mom inherited the role of caregiver - my brother and sister would visit, and I would occasionally call and send cards and flowers, but the bulk of assistance fell to mom, who faithfully stopped in a few times a week, phoned every day, and kept Marie in tissues (Puffs!), her favorite headbands and flannel nightgowns. Mom ran interference with the nurses and took Marie to her doctor and dentist appointments - even when Marie would go through episodes of paranoia and dementia, Mom was a constant of calm and support.

Marie has been the epitome of unconditional love, never a moment of blame/shame/guilt... and always an instant smile, a chipper voice and a stroking hand - she never worried when she didn't hear from us but radiated when she did. Spending time with her during our once-a-year Christmas visits was warming and all-too-short, whether at Mom's house or at the nursing home - she's always been such a *sport* and basked in any family interaction, no matter where, who or how many (or few).

It is distressing to know her body is now betraying her... and, for someone who's always been a fighter, it is very clear she is now making a conscious decision to allow the shutting down - I think she's really... just... tired. So... whether I'm in time to hold her hand and give her permission to let go... or whether I arrive after the fact to help with various arrangements, I feel the need to be there for Marie, who's always been there for me (as well as for my husband and children) - this world will be a different, sadder place when she has passed...

[Added 6/13/08: My aunt transitioned comfortably and gracefully in her sleep at 2:45 a.m., with my mom, brother and sister by her side - R.I.P. Ree Ree...]

SONG: Marie by Irving Berlin

BOOK (in this case, a short story): The Last Leaf by O. Henry

POEM: Sonnets to Orpheus, Part II, XIII by Rainer Maria Rilke

Be ahead of all leaving as though it were
behind you, like the winter as it parts,
for among winters is one so endlessly winter
only through overwintering can your heart

survive. Be dead forever in Eurydice -
rise singing, praising back to pure relation.
Be here among the vanished; near the tree
of death, be ringing glass that shatters even

as it rings. Know conditions of nonbeing,
the endless ground of your vibration down
in you: one day you'll be fully fulfilled.

And to full nature's store of speechless things,
of worn and everything that's dumb and muffled,
joyfully add yourself - and end the count.

QUOTE: "Our death is not an end if we can live on in our children and the younger generation. For they are us, our bodies are only wilted leaves on the tree of life." ~ Albert Einstein

1 comment:

  1. Susan, I am so sorry to hear about your Aunt's passing, my deepest condolences to your whole family. I don't think I ever knew the background of your brother, Brad! How could I have missed these amazing stories? We need some catching up time, no doubt. Please give me a call when you return and let's make it happen.