Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The Fading Flower

I went to visit my great aunt today. I wrote briefly about this great aunt in a prior post on conversations with people who are dying.

I have known that she has not been doing well. In fact, she has been bedbound for months and in a nursing home for most of that time. Today, I went to visit her for the first time since my grandmother died. As I walked to her house from the train station, my bouquet of flowers in hand, the tears started to trickle out. I told myself to go ahead and cry and get it out during the nine or so block walk to her house so that it would be out of my system before I got there. Unfortunately, all that crying didn’t help. I walked in, saw that she had lost even more weight than the last time I’d seen her and that her feeding tube was out. The tears flooded my face despite my attempts at restraint.

“I’m so sorry. I’m just so sad,” I mumbled as I reached for a tissue.

My aunt is from my mother’s side of the family. My grandmother was on my father’s side. So my aunt did not and does not know of my grandmother’s recent death. I decided not to tell her. I didn’t want the visit to be about me.

Once I got the tears under control, we had a lovely visit, as we always do. We told each other stories from throughout our lives.

Later, while she napped, I talked to the 24-hour caregiver who now stays at her house with her. I found out that in the two weeks I’ve been away dealing with my grandmother’s death, my aunt has been enrolled in home hospice, which I am immensely grateful for. I found out the caregiver has never been with anyone who has died before. She seemed rather nervous, so I left her my home and cell phone numbers to reach me in case she has questions or needs help.

When my aunt awoke from her nap, we talked a little more. She told me that she has regrets, but that they don't bother her anymore. I inquired further about this, as I have been struggling with my own regrets recently – most notably regretting not seeing my grandmother again before she died. My Aunt Loretta told me that regrets are just part of the learning process. Knowing this now, she has been able to make peace with her past. She also said she most regrets working so hard to please others.

She assured me, “I am very content and satisfied with my life. It was full. I liked it. I did more than I expected I would."

She said there is a Japanese phrase she likes that goes something like this:

We rejoice when the sprout comes out of the ground.
We rejoice when the flower blooms.
And we rejoice when the flower fades.

Once again, I am feel I am being asked not to be sad. There is obviously a lesson that I am not getting here. I say this as the tears swell up again. But it just isn’t fair. I miss my grandmother and will miss my aunt, too. Why can’t I be sad for me? How often are goodbyes truly happy and a time to rejoice?

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