We’ve been back from Europe for nearly 2 weeks now, and since getting home I’ve been pretty much absorbed with our Aunt Gertie, who is in hospital. She was still at home when she left, stubbornly hanging on to her independence at age 96, but she had a fall while we were away — the latest of several she’s had over the past few years — and developed an infection in the arm she injured, which led to her being admitted to hospital. Her greatest fear over these last few years has been that if she ever had to go to hospital she would never be allowed to go home, but would be sent to a nursing home. And — guess what? She was right.
She was pretty upset about this for awhile, but now, after three weeks in hospital (and no clear idea yet how long she’ll be there — it’s a matter of waiting for a bed to become available in a nursing home) she is starting to accept the idea. In fact, at this point I think she’s accepting it more than I am. I know she’ll be well cared for there, though I regret the loss of the independence she’s fought so hard to maintain and we’ve done so much to support. In some ways her being in a nursing home it will be easier on me and on my mom, not having to worry so much about the times when she’s alone in the house and what might happen to her.
But taking all that into account, I’m still not sure why I feel such deep sadness every time I visit her, even the times when she’s in good spirits. Partly it’s how much I dislike hospitals — I am the world’s worst hospital visitor, hands down — and partly, I guess, it’s just the natural sadness that comes with realizing that time brings changes, that an era in all our lives is over. I was practically raised in Aunt Gertie’s house — my parents lived with her for the first 6 years of my life; then I went to her house every day after school; I lived with her for a year when I was in grad school; now that I live nearby, my kids routinely go to her house to watch TV (she has cable) and I drop in to do little things for her, often several times a day. It hurts to think of her never living there again. Most of my earliest memories are of Aunt Gertie’s house, her kitchen, her presence.
I wonder if there’s an element of pride mixed in with my sadness, as there is in so many of my reactions to things. Was there a part of me that was proud to be able to say, “Our family is so committed, so loving, so efficient, that we managed to support our aunt living in her own home well into her 90s”? Probably. I feel like, on some level, I’ve failed at given her what she wanted most — a peaceful death in her own home, without hospitals or nursing homes or upheaval.
I know a lot of these feelings are irrational, but that doesn’t make them any less real.