Saturday, September 27, 2008

A Pause To Say Goodbye

We were working our way back from Canada and doing some touring in Vermont and New Hampshire when the word came that Aunt Dot, my mother's sister Dorothy, had passed away at the age of 91. The picture of her below with me and my sister Barby was taken a year ago, almost to the day, after she had taken a mighty fall, broken her hip, which in turn triggered one complication after another. She resided in a nursing home at the time of her passing, although she had remained extremely independent in the family home of my maternal grandparents until the fall changed things and not for the better.

Dot was a most exceptional human being! Ordinarily I would feel badly that a relative of mine had passed away while staying in a nursing facility, but in this case I suppose it was a touch of genius that she was there. For starters it was a bright, cheery, clean, and actually quite pleasant facility. First floor room with a nice view out over a well landscaped field. Dining hall, chapel, TV room, beauty shop, game room just around the corner and down the hall a bit. A well trained, very polite, cheery bunch of nurses and additional support staff and more than adequate smiles to go around and lift the spirit. This is perhaps (I'm no authority on nursing homes, nor do I claim to be) out of the ordinary. Wish that were not the case, but quite possibly is. Anyway, this is about Aunt Dot and not the nursing home.

She herself was a life long nurse. And a mighty fine one. I should say a great one. She started her career as a military affiliated nurse and worked at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington DC. There she was instrumental in getting the Walter Reed nursing program up and running. That corp is legendary and I know she helped to get it to that point. But she was not a high power, limelight seeking nurse- just a highly skilled one, who always sought to put herself to work where she could best help others, not herself. She traveled the path of private nursing following that stint, preferring to work where she was more part of a family than part of a team. She made life long friends not only of patients but also of their families, who seemed to think of her as one of their own. She worked from DC to Maine and back again. But then it came to pass that my grandfather had a brain tumor and required full time care for nearly a decade and so the nurse who had always put patients before herself now made the life changing decision to put her family before her career and moved home to fill the need for a full time care giver. She traded her career, her income, her pension, her personal life to do that which always came naturally to her- taking care of those who needed taking care of. It was a decision that had major financial and personal ramifications, but one which I am sure was made automatically. Simply put: she always did what she seemed to have been born to do. Whether it was a good decision or not is not for me to say or judge. But it was certainly the right decision for her. Nothing has ever garnered my respect for someone more that that they be true to themselves- and she was always that! And then some.

But why would I think it fair turnaround that she would be in a nursing home at the time of her death. Because in the house of her parents where she lived in her later years, it was hard to get out, harder still to see friends and neighbors, and next to impossible to take care of her own affairs. But here in the nursing home, once she got the lay of the land, she not only could be taken care of as she required, but she was actually able to return to her own care-giving nature and go about the business of nursing to her roommates and those around her. On one of our visits to her, the call to dinner came. As we prepared to depart for the afternoon, Aunt Dot gathered roommates to the wash basin and made sure they washed their hands before dinner and were all ready for the march down the hall.

To the very last, she knew when her meds and her treatment were correct and when they needed adjusting. She was an advocate for her companions. She was a teacher and a care-giver and a beacon for life in a place which is so often associated with death. I always joked with her that it was only a matter of time before she "would be running the joint." And had she had more time, perhaps she might have done just that.

Respect comes to those who know how to give it. She did. Many nurses do. They are a special breed. And for those of us who have ever been in a hospital for matters more than casual, we always know one thing when we leave. It is not the doctors, even the most wonderful among them, that we remember well. It is the nurses that rubbed our back or held our hand or fluffed the pillow or spoke softly to us when a needle in the backside and medicine alone was not as powerful as a soft word spoken gently. When a smile was not prescribed, but was exactly "what the doctor ordered."

I have a rose from the casket spray drying in a vase. It is all she had left to give me. But more than I could ever have asked for.


jsilagy said...

Greg, What a beautiful, beautiful tribute you wrote to your Aunt Dot. It really made me cry. It was so beautiful and so moving. She was such a great lady and you know, I know she felt exactly the same way about you, as you exhbit
in your blog. I can still remember being at your parent's anniversary party at that restaurant on 422. Aunt Dot sat at the table where I was seated and she was breathless when you walked in. She was so thrilled and excited and then to top it off your son walked in. How that woman loved each and every one of of you.
I never, ever heard her say a negative word about anyone. NEVER. If she did it was never in my presence. She was so grateful that your parents shared their wonderful children with her. FAMILY,to her, that's what it was all about. Thanks for your beautiful tribute to her. What a great lady she was. Miss Joan

Ken and Linda said...


We are so very sorry to hear about your aunt. It was a beautiful tribute.

Ken and Linda