Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The string of family deaths has begun

It happened last Wednesday. My mom called in the middle of the day to inform me that her sister’s health was worse than previously expected. Her sister, the youngest of three siblings from my mom’s family, had never married and lived alone in the same apartment for over thirty years. Her health, though, had gone downhill rapidly over the previous six weeks.

I offered to come after work and visit them as they waited for news at the hospital. With her brother from out of state on his way, though, my mom opted to wait for him. She is both an open and closed-off person — at least emotionally speaking. I have rarely seen my mom show her emotions. It’s the way she was raised, I suppose. They grew up with little, thrived on hard work and long hours and survived on little. It’s a generational thing.

I knew, though, that when my mom declined my offer to visit her, her brother and my dad (as well as my aunt) that things were not good. Nobody want to be seen when they are in rapidly declining health by members of even the extended family. As it stands, I am the only nephew my aunt and uncle have. My uncle, married twice, never had children and my parents have only me. Small families are typically close-knit and I suppose ours is no different. I arrived home form work that evening and further discussed with my wife what was going on. I flatly explained that this is just how my mom is. My wife knows it and has seen it. A hug is a rarity but the love, often unspoken, is still there.

When my phone rang on my way to work the following morning I already knew what it was about. My aunt, at the age of 63 years old, had passed away at 2:23 AM at St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester. After only one day in the hospital in Mankato, she was airlifted when bad became worse. They contemplated surgery but with the medication my aunt was on she would have likely bled to death. If medical attention, and a consensus between doctors at the clinic and the hospital in Mankato, would have been sought out earlier, the trio of conditions could have likely been treated. Instead my aunt passed away due to complications from a kidney disease, a possibly ruptured colon and a nerve disorder. All of which stemmed from a poor diet and a lack of medical attention.

When this happened, I wondered how my mom would deal with it. Separated by about 100 miles, the two spoke weekly via phone. My mom is the oldest in the family and she is the glue that holds not only her family but my dad’s family together, too. They visited in person regularly and my mom looked out for her as plenty of older siblings do for their younger siblings.

My mom, though, described what she was experiencing only as “a bit tough”. That’s who my mom is. She can talk for hours but when it comes to anything remotely personal, the conversation is quickly steered away from that topic.

The troubling part for me is that this was the first death of a close family member. The first aunt to pass away. Sadly, it marks what will likely be a regular occurrence for years to come. My dad is one of seven siblings and he also has two step-siblings. That leaves around a dozen family members when you factor in spouses. The next twenty-five years will be full of losses for my extended family.

But instead of thinking about the losses, I like to focus on the positives. My daughter will have her first of probably many boyfriends. My son will start school and slay plenty of ladies with his good looks. Things will continue to change and evolve for my wife and me. Our friends and family will continue to grow. We’ll have far more good times than bad.

The inevitable changes will happen but the memories will last forever.

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