Early this morning, at the grand age of 94, my Great Aunt Helen passed away. She had been declining for a few weeks, and finally went to sleep a few days ago, dying last night in the arms of my Uncle Don, her husband of 57 years.
I went to Helen and Don’s every boxing day of my life, and when my kids were little, I spoke with Helen almost every day. She had a lot of sanity. Earlier this year, it became clear that Helen and Don could absolutely no longer live on their own, and they moved together to a nursing home that Helen never really got the hang of, and a few weeks ago she stopped eating and weakened very quickly. We all wondered if she’d found a way to leave the place…one way or another, although Helen claimed that wasn’t her plan. A lot of uncomfortable testing seemed like it would injure her for more than it was worth, and she wasn’t in any pain, so I guess we’ll never really know. I think it was three things. Old age, a broken heart at leaving her home, and a reluctance to stay and watch Don decline further than he had already.
The last time I saw her was a visit a few months ago, before she was transitioned from the temporary nursing home here in Toronto to the one she and Don have been at in Sudbury. It was obvious to me then that she was fragile, but Helen has been old my whole life, and I somehow thought that she and Don weren’t playing by the same rules as the rest of humanity, and I realize now that some small part of me really did think that she might live forever.
I had hoped she would live long enough to see the essay about her in this last book… but maybe it’s better this way. I’m trying not to feel very sad about it. It was a good life, a happy life and a very long life with a peaceful ending. What’s breaking my heart is sadness for my Uncle Don, because I just don’t know how you go on alone after almost 60 years in each others fine company.
I have no idea how you would do it.