Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

My aunt is still hanging on to life, although she seems to be growing weaker by the day.

The day before yesterday when I visited her after work, I found her lying there with her blanket over her head. For a second I thought, Oh, my God -- she's dead. They just haven't called me yet. My aunt's roommate, evidently seeing the striken look on my face, said, "She's awake -- she's just covering her eyes because she wants to rest." So I touched her hand, and said hello, and made some inane conversation. She responded with faint monosyllables. And I got the impression that I was disturbing the rest she craved, so I left.

Yesterday I wasn't feeling well -- I think in part due to stress -- so I called the nursing home. Aunt M was still much the same, they said, but complaining about pain, so they'd called in the doctor to readjust her medication. This made me feel worse.

Maybe it's because, these days, we tend not to go through the family deathbed experiences that people did in past generations when almost everyone died at home -- but I feel like a stranger and interloper in this whole process. I don't know what to do; everything I do seems wrong, and everything I don't do seems wrong. I keep thinking about the day before my mother died, when she was angry and belligerent, so unlike herself, and when I also felt that my presence at the hospital was making things worse, not better.

I'm also finding myself in the old territory of asking God Why? Not why my aunt has to die, but why she has to die in this way. Why can't she simply go to sleep and not wake up? I had the same question when she, in the years before her hospitalization, lost a grip on her sanity and became paranoid and delusional. Why?

And then I tell myself to stop being so melodramatic. Despite the family joke that I'm my aunt's favorite niece -- I'm her only niece -- it's not as if we had shared our lives in an intimate way. Other than spending a week at her house evey summer when I was little, I have always been a drop-in visitor to her home. And it's been the same thing since she's lived in her care facility; I'd stop in for maybe 15 or 20 minutes a week, or every other week -- and if she didn't feel like socializing she'd inform me, not unkindly but firmly, "You can go now." She truly has more of a familial, day-to-day relationship with the nursing home staff than with me. So it shouldn't be surprising that I feel like a bumbling, in-the-way visitor now.

Yesterday I called the funeral home where my aunt has a prepaid plan, and reviewed what we'd arranged for her ten years ago. My pastor is on standby for whenever it's time to hold services. This "bidness" end of things seems to be the only place where I feel like I'm being the least bit useful.


Rev Scott said...

At least you visited - that's a damn sight more than some folks. My grandmother is a nursing home resident, and her neighbors continually tell her how lucky she is that all of her family visits as often as we do. Even the best nursing home staff are still the professionals who "have" to care for her: you were doing it out of your sense of family faithfulness, and such things are not inconsequential.

zorra said...

Even now, I am sure that on some level she appreciates your coming. Sometimes just showing up is more important than we think.