I’m sort of in limbo right now. Two days ago I got an email from my aunt, saying that my great-aunt Bernice is dying. We knew that this would be coming sooner or later, but probably sooner. She IS 97 years old. I’m just not ready to let her go yet. They have given her 3-5 days, due to aspiration of fluid into her lungs.
My aunt Bernice and my Gramma are sisters, as well as best friends. Gramma was born when Bernice was 11 (“surprise!”), and Bernice practically raised her. They both grew up, got married, had kids, and lost husbands. They lived one block apart for 50 years. I moved away from Seattle when I was 8, as military transfers happen, and didn’t end up moving back (temporarily) until I was 19. No matter where we landed though, Aunt Bernice and Gramma were the first to come visit us, as soon as we were settled. They flew to see us in Kodiak, Alaska. They flew to see us on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. They took the train multiple times to see us in many cities in California. They flew again to see us in Juneau, Alaska. Everywhere we moved, they soon appeared. I took to writing to both of them when we first moved away. I received letters on “postalettes” from Bernice and my Gramma one to two times a month. They even crashed my courthouse wedding ceremony in San Luis Obispo, CA when I was 18. We were told that we could only have our attendants in the room because it was so small. Bernice would have NONE of that. She walked in, all 4’8″ of her, with her fiery red hair and personality to match, and no one could tell her to leave. 🙂 I just adore that tiny little lady!
Five years ago, Bernice suffered an anneurism and nearly died. She had the blood clot removed, but she never fully recovered. Where there used to be sharp wit and tremendous knowledge, there remained an innocent childlike person, with only the most rudementary language skills and almost no short term memory. With family help she was able to remain at home, with my Gramma spending all day most days keeping her company and trying to keep their regular routine going. For years and years, they had a dining-out routine. Restaurant staff all over West Seattle knew them by name, or at least knew that “the sisters” would be in on Wednesday for lunch, or Saturday for dinner. Whether it was Skippers in White Center, or Huckleberry Square in Burien, everyone knew them. They regularly attended community play houses, as well as symphonies and many, many other things.
Over the years those two little old ladies visited Australia twice, since they had friends there. They traveled to England several times, even taking in The King and I in London, starring Yule Brenner. They attended the Shakepearean Festival in Astoria, Oregon many times. They took classes at the community college, and rode giant tricycles to the grocery store. Bernice hosted countless holiday family dinners. She took me to Seattle Center for shopping and lunch at the top of the Space Needle. And now, she is at the end of her life. What a life she lived!! And yet I just don’t feel I want to let her go. She can’t be old. She’s 97 but really, she can’t be old.
Aunt Bernice instilled in me a strong sense of responsibility, a sense of family, and pride in motherhood. She encouraged my hubby and I to continue eating dinner together as a family by giving me a “Special Plate” for Christmas about ten years ago. “This plate is to celebrate anything anyone wants to celebrate. An A on a report card, a fabulous choir concert, an anniversary or birthday. Who ever has something to celebrate should eat on the Special Plate for that day. And I want you to know Dawn, that you are the only one in the family who makes it a priority to eat together as a family. That is why I am giving you this plate.” We still use the Special Plate for all celebrations, and the kids look forward to using it on their birthdays and other special days!
And I know, as I wait for the call, that losing her is inevitable. Oh how I adore that tiny little lady.