I drove out to visit my Great Aunt Anne today. She is 88 years old and is still living on her own. For that last few years, her situation has been less than ideal, but workable. However, these days it’s not going well. She’s essentially stranded in a suburban ranch house with nothing around but neighbors and a private day school. She does still have a car but can’t drive anymore because her driver’s license expired and she knows that the DMV won’t give her another one. She’s right too, her macular degeneration has gotten so bad that she can hardly see. It seems to be a moot point anyway, as the last time she tried to turn on the car’s engine, the battery was dead and she doesn’t have the problem-solving skills to figure out how to get it charged or replaced.
There are other signs that she is struggling more with living on her own than she used to. In the past she was always thrilled to see me and would chat on for hours about the past, the mistakes she made in her life, her hatred for President Bush and why she doesn’t believe in god. This time, we chatted for about half an hour before she turned the TV on because it was time for “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” It was shocking to see how much she has withdrawn into television.
The saddest moment of the visit was towards the end. I had my coat on and was fishing in my pocket for my car keys. As I grabbed them I said, “Okay, I’ve got my keys.” This phrase sent Aunt Anne into a panic and she said, in a wobbly voice that sounded near to tears, “Where are my keys?” She began patting her pockets and started walking around the house. She said, “Honey, please help me find my keys!”
I asked her if she was planning on going anywhere and she said no, but she still wanted to have her keys. Eventually she found them and flopped into an armchair with a thump. I leaned over, gave her a kiss and said, “I love you Aunt Anne, I’ll talk to you soon.” And then I left.
My grandmother was always a dynamic woman on the go and after an aneurysm her life drastically changed into a downward spiral. It was so hard to watch her lose her dynamism and what made her the woman she was. Unfortunately my family was not ready to let her go when she had a chance and she ended up on a respirator in a nursing home for 9 months, very unhappy. It was difficult for her, but it gave my family time to let her go. I always wished that she didn’t need to go through the last part of her life.
Somehow I just spiraled downward into sadness when that was not my intention.
What I learned from my experience with my grandma I was able to use to help my elderly landlady in her final months. Her family wanted to put her into a nursing home, but she never wanted to leave her home and I encouraged her to stand by her wishes and in the end she was able to die at home. It was sad, but I felt like she got the end she wanted to her life and I feel glad I was able to help her in any small way with that when I wasn’t able to help my own grandmother.
I am sure that your visits to your aunt do brighten her day even if it is just as a tv companion. It is so good of you to be able to find some time in your crazy schedule to go see her.
This is a powerfully written post. Thank you for sharing something so personal and inspirational. I know that sounds ironic…it’s quite sad that your aunt is struggling. But it’s also inspirational that she’s been so independent for so long and continues to trod along. It’s just as inspirational that you have the courage to confront this deterioration and the grace to keep on showing your love to her. I know that I have a very difficult time watching my grandmother, now entering her 90s, grow really and truly old. Until just a year ago she was feisty and alive. Now she’s distant and somehow hollow, which makes it hard for me to visit sometimes. After reading your post, I’m determined to go see her this weekend. Thank you!