I wrote this entry about my very old (92?) great aunt Genevieve a few months back. She passed away yesterday morning, and is now with her husband and brother whom she missed so much.
October 22, 2011
Aunt Genevieve is dying. I've known this for a few months now, but she's now really close to the end. Dad and I removed her old bed (it belonged to her mother and father) so that a new hospital bed could be placed in her room. She is currently under 24-hr hospice care.
Last time I saw her, she was walking around, enthusiastically chatting about everything that came to her mind. She was an excellent conversationalist. Her 92-year-old mind was sharp as a tack.
The visit today was much quieter. Her only form of communication was through an iPad connected to a keyboard. She would fumble with her one good hand over the keys, dragging her index and middle finger clumsily en route to the desired letter. Most of the words had extras letters attached to them in random places, and others were separated by long blank spaces caused by moments when her palm became lazy on the space bar.
I began to anticipate the words she wanted to say, but didn't interrupt her mid-sentence. Much of the time, she began a sentence one way, and I'd assume I knew where she was going with it, but then would change the direction entirely and catch me by surprise with her thoughtful comments and questions.
I wish I had the dialogue. She erased it all before I could email it to myself. It would've looked like nonsense, but I would've been able to decipher it and keep it as our last recorded conversation before she died.
We talked about music and she encouraged me to play a tube organ that has been collecting dust in her living room for years. She typed to me how I could plug it in and advised that I collect the instructional tapes and sheet music from under the piano seat to use to teach myself how to play.
I played a few chords as well as I could, mainly staying on the white keys and letting the decent-sounding chords sustain for as long as seemed musically appropriate. I played loud enough so that she could hear it from the other room where she sat by the computer. I thought about how this might be the last bit of music that she'll hear on earth, which made me feel sad and honored that an unskilled organist like myself would leave fumbled melodies ringing in her ears until eternity.
After finishing my impromptu piece, I returned to the study where she sat in front of her iPad screen.
"DSSSOUNDSS BEAUUTIFIUL," she wrote, "ITTS Y OOURS IF YOOU WAANT ITT."
I smiled at her and told her how much I appreciated the gift. I told her that I'd write many songs on it. And for a moment, I heard songs developing around that instrument.
She wanted my Dad to make sure that her mom and dad's old bed was going somewhere safe. For months, she has been watching things slowly be removed from her house, doing her best to allocate her belongings to those who will appreciate them most. Dad assured that he would keep it safe until he found someone who could use it and care for it.
My Dad said that it was good that I came down today because it would probably be the last time that I see her alive. Given the circumstances, and how old she is, it was appropriate for him to say it as casually as he did, but still, it seemed wrong that she was going to die.
Being close to somebody as they're consciously approaching death is painful and inspiring. Seeing Aunt Genevieve in her final days makes me want to live my own life better. Something about seeing her on her way out reminded me of how much life I still have to live and how I shouldn't waste the time I've got.
It's somewhat unlikely that I'll make it to my 92nd birthday, but, Lord-willing, I've got a few more decades in me. There is so much life to live and so many good ways to live it well.
One of the first things I'm going to do with this newly inspired outlook on life is write a song, featuring the pipe organ.