Thursday, March 20, 2008

time keeps on slipping

Christmas 2006 we spent with my parents. I was pregnant. We spent Christmas dinner at one of my cousin's, with my aunt and uncle and another cousin. Over 20 people at the table, and it was part of that perfect time when I thought I had everything I wanted.

I grew up in my mom's hometown, with my grandparents down the road, her one brother in town, her other brother visiting often, her sister in the next town over. We did Sunday dinners when my grandparents were still alive, all holidays, big family gatherings. Lots of fun, and laughter, and stories.

My dad's family was a thousand miles away. We went every other summer, usually, and sometimes they came to visit us. My father's sister had 5 children, with the youngest about 5 years older than me. My father's brother had 3 kids, and that youngest was also 4 or so years older than me. So we weren't as close, didn't see them as often, but when I think of times with them, it's still love, fun, laughter, and stories.

One summer my aunt's family - all 5 kids - piled in the car and drive to see us, and stayed for about two weeks. I was probably somewhere around 6 or so, and I remember when they arrived the whole herd of "big kids" exploded out of the car and were all over our lawn, on our swingset, just everywhere. It was chaos, and it was fun. My really pretty cousin had a romance with the high school boy - one of the super popular kids in town - down the street, and they kept in touch for a while.

I have long wondered how my aunt and uncle have done it. Soon after that summer, their youngest girl developed leukemia. Her leg was amputed, and she spent years in treatment. I remember once we vacationed in Boston - because we visited them at Children's Hospital. My cousin died when I was 8 or so. My brother and I did not go to the funeral, we stayed with my mom's parents while my parents went. When I was in high school, my parents sat my brother and I down one night - my oldest cousin had commited suicide. He was 25. My uncle found him. It was at Christmas, and we did not go to the funeral. When I was in grad school, their youngest, a boy, died from AIDS. My parents went to the funeral, but I couldn't go.

My dad told me after the graveside service he had walked away with my uncle. My uncle sighed, and said when my first cousin had died, they had bought the plot with three spaces - for their youngest daughter and eventually for them. And now, my uncle had just filled the plot - three children gone.

I often think of how they do it. My aunt and uncle are among the kindest, most generous people I know. Seeing them is just comforting in so many ways. They exude love, they always have. There's no bitterness, or sadness, or anger. Of course, I was a child for most of the tragic periods, and haven't been around at the darkest times. I don't know their dark nights of the soul. I just know it's not changed who they are.

My dad had heart surgery in the fall. So did my aunt. My dad recovered quickly, and has had a near textbook perfect recovery. My aunt did not. She had a heart valve replaced, and had a small stroke after. She spent over a month in ICU, struggling to get her heart rate under control, her breathing back, to recover. She developed an infection in the incision. She had to have a tracheotomy to breathe. She developed sores. But she was getting better, slowly. Last month she finally left the hospital for a rehab center. A long road ahead, but slow and steady progress.

My parents called last night. She's gotten some sort (details unclear) of super staph infection. There is no antibiotic to treat it. There is no way to get rid of it. It is attacking her body, and it is slowly winning. Yesterday her kidneys shut down. She is still concious and aware, and the doctors asked the family about dialysis. And she said yes. My uncle asked her if she understood what this all meant. She was a nurse. She mouthed back to him - do YOU understand? The doctors asked about a do not resuscitate. No one answered. The doctors say they don't know when, but that she won't leave the hospital. They said it could be today, or next week, or...... After shutting down her kidneys, probably the next to go will be her lungs and that will be it.

I talked to my mom today. My dad is taking this hard. I asked if they were going for the weekend (my parents live about 3 hours away). My mom said my dad didn't want to go. He said, what can I do. We'll just be in the way, we'll be trouble and something else for my cousins to deal with, when they don't need that. My mom told me my dad had to work through this and decide what he could and could not do.

I talked to my sister this afternoon. I said to her, when it is my time, you better come. She said she would.

My husband thinks we should go this weekend. He also loves my aunt and uncle. I don't know. I don't know what to do. I'll call my brother tomorrow, and my parents again.

I'm not ready for this. December 2006, we talked about the next few holidays and how we'd spend them. My aunt and uncle talked about visiting us. My whole family talked about a trip to the old country together. I want to be 6 again, nestled in the love and bustle of my family. I don't want to be 39, figuring out if I can get to the hospital in time, or if I should save my trip for the funeral.


CLC said...

I am sooo sorry about this. They sound like such lovely people. It just doesn't seem fair, does it? Your aunt is in my prayers.

meg said...

Wh. Bx., that is so hard to read. Your poor family. And CLC is so right, it just isn't fair. I, too, will be thinking and praying for your Aunt. I am so sorry.

Antigone said...

I want to say that at least she had the happiness, the laughter which you described.

But I'm really just left wondering about the futility of it all.

Take care. I hope you do what's best for you this weekend.