Tuesday our aunt passed away after being ill a long time. She had had emphysema. For many years her husband had been her caregiver until he suddenly fell ill with cancer and died the summer before last. His widow spent her final year in a nursing home, living in a tiny studio into which her visitors could hardly squeeze. She could have moved to a bigger unit, but somehow preferred this more narrow space.
Theirs was a harmonious marriage built on a sharp practical division, in that she had nothing to do with the management of their financial affairs and was surprised on his death to be left with a considerable amount of money. What did it matter, though, really? She continued to live as she had, a habitual thriftiness which they both shared accentuated by his loss.
So often when a spouse departs, some life goes out of the living partner, too. Our aunt was not embittered, but the fullness went out of her life at that point, was reduced to the one dimension of her illness. And why was that anything to fight against now?
After many months in which she nonetheless struggled for every breath, she fell and broke her shoulder, and shortly afterward died. Living in the state of Washington, in the end she requested medicine to ease her passing.
The mother of three strong and stable children, she had had, when in health, an irreverent side, a spunkiness counterbalancing her underlying frailty, a fragility that became ever more pronounced, as her weight dropped below eighty, leaving her diminutive frame scarcely clothed in flesh.
Death comes in a second, so despite her illness, her death seems abrupt and even unreal. My husband and I have had long-standing plans to visit Seattle this week, where, in addition to celebrating my mother-in-law’s birthday, we will join our family in grieving this loss.