AUNTIE ALMA*

Editor’s note: Following is a page from my spiritual notebook.

AUNTIE ALMA*

Late on a Sunday afternoon before Thanksgiving, my cell phone sang. Cousin Julie was calling. “Fritize! … Just wanted you to know Mother’s in the hospital. She’s had another fall.”

My stomach fell. This is it!

My little aunt was 94 years old. She had been an invalid for at least 5 years and required daily help to live independently. I wondered how her end would come.

“How is she?”

“Stan took her to the emergency room for stitches, but we’re not real sure how she is. They found other things wrong.” Julie took a breath. “They’re admitting her this time.”

I thought of Auntie’s other tumbles. The emergency room docs had simply stitched her up and sent her back home. This must really be serious. I’ll have to go see her. I asked, “Goshen Hospital?”

“Yes. But I don’t have a room number yet.” Julie paused before going on. “I knew you were going to visit her this weekend. I called because I didn’t want you to go in the house and see blood all over everything.”

It’s lucky I went to see her yesterday after mass. To Julie, I said, “I saw her last night, after church.”

As if nodding at the information, Julie paused. She said, “That’s good, then.”

Auntie Alma is my mother’s youngest sister. After her husband died in 1995, Auntie lived alone in her home of 70 years. However, in recent years, she needed daily help.

Each morning, Cousin Julie’s husband, Stan, pulled on Auntie’s compression stockings and set out her breakfast. Later, Terri, a home health aid, spent about four hours every day keeping up the house, cooking some and helping Auntie with dressing and bathing.

Though the family approached her about assisted living, Auntie shook her head. “I’m not going!” In her home nest of many years she knew where everything she owned was located. She felt memories hovering in quiet corners. Until now, staying at home had been workable.

Once she was admitted, the family kept vigil as doctors and nurses worked to stabilize her.

Hospital stay: day two. Auntie Alma with her great-granddaughter’s teddy bear.

Hospital stay: day two. Auntie Alma with her great-granddaughter’s teddy bear.

However, on day 6 she joined her parents, sisters, husband and son on the other side.

Auntie’s funeral was the chilly afternoon before Thanksgiving. Leaving the funeral home after viewing and a short service, I drove fourth in the parade to the nearby New Paris cemetery. My son David, a pall bearer, rode beside me.

A white police car with flashing red lights led our line of cars with little orange “funeral” flags. We followed the very busy Indiana highway 15 south out of Goshen.

Though the road was commonly crowded with semis, pickups, and cars, that afternoon our procession took precedence over traffic. We rolled through red lights. All other vehicles–cars, vans, trucks and even tractor trailers pulled completely off both sides of the road.

Auntie would like this. She’s being treated like visiting royalty!

The hearse passed Auntie’s little brown and white house on a main street of the village where she had lived for 70 years. Approaching her house as I had for visits nearly every week while in Indiana, I saw the front room’s lamp was lit. It looks like Auntie Alma is at home.

I blinked. Not in this world! Never again would I push open the front door that dragged against the threshold, call “You-hoo!” and see Auntie sitting in her special recliner. The next time I go there, Auntie’s chair will be empty, the TV silent.

The procession stopped. David stepped out to help move the casket.

Pall bearer David in tan pants.

Pall bearer David in tan pants.

In minutes, family and others sat on fuzzy royal blue chairs under a matching blue tent, gathered for final prayers.

Goodbye, Auntie!

untie Alma wears a red rose crown.

Auntie Alma wears a red rose crown.

Though my aunt was in failing health, she refused to discuss her funeral, saying only, “I want a pretty casket!”

That decision was not mine, but she got her wish. Stepping out of the tent, I saw the sun had come out. The blue November sky was full of hope.

I took a breath. Blue skies follow grayness!

May it also be so with life!

Frances signature

*Though it is not my aunt’s real name, to protect her identity in my stories, I have always called her “Auntie Alma.”

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