I told a co-worker I wanted to take some time off to go back home to be with my 93 year old Aunt, who is now in Hospice. He laughed and said, "what are you going to do, sit with her the whole time?" I was taken aback by his comment, because in all honesty, I never questioned what I would do, I just knew I wanted to be there in her last days. "If you were dying," I asked him, "wouldn't you want someone there with you?" He thought for a moment, and changed his sarcastic tone, "well, yes. I wouldn't want to die alone."
The medical term in the determining factor to place someone in hospice is 'failure to thrive.' She doesn't want to eat, drink, watch her once favorite show, David Letterman, participate in any activities, or socialize. My Aunt is tired. She outlived my mother, (her sister) three husbands, a son, and many friends - and because her mind is so intact, she knows she will be seeing them again soon. My mother and aunt were always together, and as far back as I can remember, she was always there for me, whether waiting in her Red Cadillac to pick me up from school, taking me out to lunch, shopping, or spending a day at Seneca Park Zoo in Upstate New York. www.senecaparkzoo.org
She was my second mother. She held my hand when I needed to feel safe and loved, and now, in the winter of her life, we come full circle. Only this time I am the one holding her hand. I want her to feel safe, and needed, and loved in the last hours of her life. The love she gave to me and others throughout the years brought me back to her bedside. In the end, what we give out comes back, tenfold.
Which brings me to the tragedies of 2012. We will forever try to piece together the unanswered questions of why so many died alone in their fear by a crazed gunman, unexpected accidents, the devastation of hurricane Sandy. We are a nation of many words, yet, we are at a loss of words. We want to help by donating money, flowers, gifts, concerts, fix this, fix that.
In the upcoming days and months of the new year, and most likely years to come, there will be moments when families of the victims will feel like they're in hospice. The failure to thrive will be very real for them, and we need to remember that sometimes all that is needed in their time of sorrow is just being there - our presence alone my comfort and heal.
Families left behind by the heartaches of 2012, didn't have a chance to say goodbye to their loved ones, or are still picking up fragments of their life in the aftermath of hurricanes and floods.
Yes, I am reluctant to say goodbye to my Aunt, even having the chance. It's hard to let go, be it expected or not. But I know that in this heartache, and in the heartache of so many others, love will redeem itself, and we will never fully understand why or how - perhaps one of my favorite quotes explains it best: "I have found the paradox that if I love until it hurts, then there is no hurt, only more love."