Things are Changing.
Returning to South Philly was never my dream, but living next door to Bill’s aunts, quite unexpectedly, made being here worthwhile.
After moving in, I quickly realized that if Bill and I weren’t here, Aunt Ginny and Aunt “Bo” (the nickname Bill gave her because, as a toddler, he couldn’t say “Dolores”) probably wouldn’t be able to continue living independently. Not that the things we do for them are huge or heroic, but we are there for the little day-to-day things—like changing hearing aid batteries, searching for lost hearing aids (Bill rescued one out of the garbage disposal!), making pick-ups at the pharmacy and runs to the library for audio books, reading prescription labels, checking the house for the source of suspicious noises and leaks. Things like that.
Looking out our back door, into their kitchen window is something I’ve done multiple times each day for the past 8 years. Are they okay? Do they need anything? I can’t count the number of times our house phone has rung and the caller ID has announced Aunt Ginny’s late husband’s name (it’s been nice to have a daily reminder of Uncle Joe—one of the finest men I’ve ever known), and a minute later I’m out my back door and into theirs–on duty, ready to solve whatever little crisis has come up.
Their children have thanked me a million times. They didn’t want to have to force their moms into assisted living, having brought the topic up from time-to-time, only to have been met with huge resistance, so our being here has given them peace of mind, knowing their moms are being looked after. I like being appreciated, but sometimes their gratitude makes me feel uncomfortable because they can’t seem to understand that I get as much out of helping their moms as their moms get from my helping them. During this period of time in my life when my purpose has been unclear, assisting these dear, tiny, antique ladies has made me feel useful and valuable and perhaps even necessary.
Although Bill and I have always regarded our stay in his childhood home as temporary, I’ve often said that I didn’t want to leave this house until the aunts left theirs.
And I definitely didn’t want to stay after they were gone.
An unwelcome scenario I have sometimes imagined is one day looking out the back door to see if the aunts’ kitchen lights are on, only to be reminded that strangers have moved in (strangers who no doubt would think I’m the weirdest, nosiest neighbor since Gladys Kravitz on Bewitched!) . . . well, it’s just not something I’m looking forward to.
But I have to prepare myself—because things are changing.
This past November Aunt Ginny caught a bad cold. She couldn’t shake it. It got worse and worse, morphed into pneumonia, and landed her in the hospital. She marked her 99th birthday in a hospital bed, and died in early December. The day after Aunt Ginny died, Aunt Bo turned 90; the party her children had planned for her was cancelled.
And now Bo is alone.
People come to visit her: her children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, a hairdresser, a nurse practitioner, a visiting nun, and so on. But on some days she is alone all day except for breakfast time when I bring my coffee and we have our daily chat. She is a people person, and this is not sustainable.
Now, the talk of assisted living is not met with resistance because—as afraid as she’s been of this transition—the loneliness is worse. Since Aunt Ginny’s passing happened during the holidays, the search for Aunt Bo’s new home was put on hold, but now it is January—an appropriate time for change.
I’ve been very concerned about Bo’s isolation, and also about her fear of the future. I’ve encouraged her that her children would find a good assisted living place for her (she adamantly refuses to live with either of them because she believes she would hinder their active lifestyles).
Aunt Bo hardly slept Monday night because the next day she was going to tour her first prospective home. I kept giving her pep talks, referring to the move as a new adventure and assuring her that her son and daughter wouldn’t make her move to a place she didn’t like. I told her I’d pray that when she visited the right place there would be a sign—something she’d see or hear that would let her know this was home. So on Tuesday they took her for the tour, and upon seeing the beautiful river the building sits on, where sailboats frequently glide by from a nearby yacht club, she was instantly won over. She could see herself happily living there.
Bill and I went next door that evening to hear about the tour. I was so happy to see Aunt Bo smiling and sounding excited instead of afraid. But as she spoke about how wonderful this place was, it occurred to me that I’d been so focused on assuring her that her move—and her future—were going to be good, that I had been in denial about my losing her. I gave her my best “I’m so happy for you! I can’t wait to visit you there and see how beautiful it is!”
But then I took the ten steps back to my own kitchen . . . and burst into tears.
Bill held me while I had a good cry. He said something about unexpected relationships. I nodded and wiped my eyes.
Things are changing.
But it will be okay.
To read more about my aunts: https://voiceandvisioninc.org/blog/entry/the-girls-next-door