My aunt Becky passed away yesterday at the age of 91, after a long battle with Alzheimer's. That disease is so wicked; it takes the essence of the person away and leaves the shell of the body. She was diagnosed with it at the age of 78, so her daughters dutifully took care of her for over a decade as she slipped farther and farther away.
Last week she had a stroke. Since she was no longer able to speak, the extent of the damage could not be determined. A few days ago, she began to refuse nourishment. My cousin Camille, who lives in Georgia, got on a plane to Columbus, Ohio,where her sister Libbie lives, and where their mother was being taken care of in a nursing home. She hoped she would make it there in time to say goodbye. She did.
Alzheimer's has been described as "The Long Goodbye". Slowly, the person afflicted with it begins to slip away, and though they do not die right away, you know the person you love is changing and will not be back.
Aunt Becky was a strong and intelligent woman. She became a nurse, which would later take a toll on her physically, and married in her thirties. She had the two girls, then when they were still young, her husband died. Aunt Becky did her best to support them and did very well.
She sewed beautifully, and would make matching dresses for her little girls. When I visited them, as a child, I loved the very female environment of pretty things and lacy nighties on the girls, and good things to eat.
She sewed for others, too. When my babies were born, Aunt Becky made needlepoint birth announcements.
She was there for my mother, her older sister, who had some problems, shall we say, dealing with life. My sister, fifteen years older than I, spent a lot of time with her aunt when our mother couldn't cope. Aunt Becky was the one who, when my mother died of leukemia at age 60, took care of a lot of the social obligations of the funeral for us.
She went back to school and got her Master's degree in social Work Services, graduating at age 58. Nursing, as I said, had taken a toll on her back. She then worked as a travelling nurse, visiting homebound patients, till she retired at 72.
Yesterday, her daughters put on matching outfits just as they had so many years ago, and went to tell their Mama goodbye. They said all the loving things they could think of, and then told their Mama it was okay for her to go - they would be all right. She passed away just a few minutes later.
What determines a life well-lived? Perhaps it is simply doing the best one can with the hand one is dealt. Keeping going when the going is tough. Getting up every morning and going to work, caring for children, friends and the elderly. Loving your children as best you can. Trying to beautify where you are.
That being the case, as I believe it is - you did well, Aunt Becky. Rest in peace. I was named Rebecca after you, and it is an honor I shall try to live up to.
We will miss you.