Losses and Gains
I've been unusually quite on here this weekend. In truth, it's been a tough couple of days. My aunt passed away on Friday night and I've been spending a lot of time with my family and mulling over my thoughts. It's never easy to explain how it feels to lose someone you love, but I can say that the feelings I have now when a loved one passes away are different than they were just a few years ago.
My aunt was very ill. She suffered from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. This is a progressive illness that tends to get worse with time, especially when those afflicted with it don't make allowances for it. In my aunt's case she was a sixty year smoker who didn't think she could quit. I honestly believe she didn't think she could stop smoking. She enjoyed her cigarettes, even though she knew they were killing her. She had to wear oxygen at night and she took breathing treatments from a home nebulizer. She had a terrible cough that would shake her all over when attacks hit her. Yes, she was aware that smoking was making her disease worse but she was eighty years old and she was in control of herself. She made her own choices and she enjoyed life. I can't fault her at all.
We all knew that her disease was going to finish her one day. She had other problems associated with being elderly, such as arthritis and a back surgery a few years ago left her unable to get around as well as she'd have liked. Everything was becoming a task for her. She often joked to us that every time she tried to cook something she burned it. She lived in her own home and she had a granddaughter on either side of her. She enjoyed the girls and she was their friend and confidant. They helped her with things she had problems doing as her age and her illness progressed. She never had to think of leaving home.
Until almost two weeks ago when she had a serious exacerbation of her COPD and went to the hospital for the last time. She was placed on a ventilator and ten days later the difficult decision was made to withdraw it. Everyone knew that she wouldn't have wanted to lay there in that hospital bed with a ventilator keeping her alive. In a few more days she would have had to undergo a tracheostomy and then be transferred to a rehab that worked with vent patients. She would likely have never been able to go home again. And she would have been miserable. So I feel that everyone involved made the right choices. She's not suffering anymore and that is what is most important.
I look back on knowing my aunt and I am heartened by the fact that she did things according to her own will. She was a very independent person. She didn't like asking anyone to do anything for her. She kept driving right up to the end, even when she probably shouldn't have, and I'm certain if she'd given it up she would have regretted it. She was never one to let others do things for her that she wanted to do herself. She was accomplished. She had a drive inside her to be her own person. She didn't compromise her beliefs for anyone. I admired these traits about her very much.
She taught me a lot about being myself and doing what was going to make me happy. She didn't believe in letting other people call the shots where her own interests were concerned and she was a good example of how living one's life according to one's own values can make you a strong person. Yes, I learned a lot from her in this respect. She was loyal and she could be trusted with your deepest secrets. I had a friend in her like I'd not had before, even with my grandmother. I'll miss that bond but it will always be there inside me, and hopefully I'll be able to use it to help someone else the way having her in my life benefitted me.
I didn't go to the hospital on Friday evening when I learned they would be pulling the vent. I just couldn't bring myself to go there knowing it would be for the last time. I wanted to remember her sitting out on her back deck. I wanted to remember her smiling at me or laughing at something we found amusing. I didn't want my last impression of her to be lying in a hospital bed not knowing anything. Maybe I was wrong in not going to her side at the end but I am at peace with my decision and I know she would have encouraged me to do what I felt was best for me.
In every loss there is a gain and I see losing my aunt in much the same fashion. I'll miss her and I'll never forget her, but having had her for the firty forty-four years of my life enriched me more than I can explain. She gave me a lot and I hope I gave her the same. We had a deep respect for each other and we loved each other very much. I won't stop missing her but I know she's at peace and that is what I feel is the biggest gain of this ordeal. My aunt doesn't have to worry about breathing problems anymore. She never had to give up smoking, which she dearly loved, and she was able to be at home until the last days of her life. Even at the end she was still calling her own shots. And that is a goal worth achieving from which we can all learn a lesson.
In memory of
Martha Sue Akins
January 9, 1931 - September 17, 2011