I have a list of people I take care of. Most are human and most are related to me although a couple are canines but I suppose they qualify since they do, indeed belong to me. Every so often though, life brings another person into your life and you just can't walk away.
A few years ago, I helped take care of my husband's great aunt. A former nun, she was my late mother-in-law's aunt. Grace's neighbor called one day to say that she felt Grace could no longer live alone. We started the process of trying to find somewhere for her to live; some type of nursing home that would immediately take someone on Medicaid - there weren't any, or at least any that had a bed. I thought we had a fair amount of time but dear Grace called one night and said she was scared and that was it. My father-in-law, Jimmy, and a nephew made the 3 hour drive and moved her and all her belongings here - four generations, spanning 90 years. It could have been a mini-series or a comedy.
I told Dan that I resented the fact that I had already buried both my parents and now, here I was, helping a woman I wasn't actually even related to. But, it got me thinking. There were alot of Aunt Grace's in the world. Who is looking out for them? And here's this one woman who needs help and she was put in front of us and she needs us.
Aunt Grace was ecstatic. She loved being in the house, loved her great-great nephews, loved the myriad of family who lived nearby, and especially loved Mickey the dog. Every morning she had a cup of black coffee, a piece of toast with butter and jam, some scrambled eggs, and a piece of bacon that I often suspected was deposited straight into Mickey's mouth, but I couldn't prove it. She said it was delicious. It didn't take long for us to realize that while living alone, despite what she told us, she hadn't been eating. She also revealed to me that she had some money woes. We quickly discovered that she had been using her credit card for daily living and despite the fact that she was 94, retired and on a fixed income, the credit card company kept increasing her credit limit and making threatening phone calls. That set "my Irish" over the top. One of our immediate steps was to get power of attorney and quickly put an end to her credit card saga. It gave me such delight to tell them they would never see another dime. They never bothered her again. We retrofit a den into a bedroom on the first floor since she couldn't do stairs.
I did notice that Grace cried out during the night in fear and on a number of mornings, she told me that someone was breaking in and stealing food out of the refrigerator. Despite how many times I assured that wasn't happening, she insisted, so I decided that I would call upon her days in religious life and we'd pray. My oldest son sat and prayed with her, pulling out a rosary and saying a decade with her. I bought her a monthly prayer book, we had a friend come give her communion. It seemed to calm her.
And then one afternoon, I came home from picking my boys up from school and found Aunt Grace trying to walk our 50 pound, rather excited dog. All I could envision was "broken hip." That same day we got the call. The nursing home, run by 8 blessed Polish nuns, had a room for Grace. A private room, nonetheless. It also had a chapel and Mass every morning. It was perfect, beyond perfect. And then the guilt started to set in, as I sat with Aunt Grace and explained that I found her very own place where she would be well cared for and near family.
Grace settled in fairly nicely in her new home. Of course, she told me it was too expensive, the food was too much, her neighbor was weird, etc. I told her it was just like when I went to college. Jimmy was always visiting her and helping her out but for some reason, she bonded more easily with me. It became the joke that when he walked into her room, her first words were, "How is Alison?" She somehow just trusted me. I decorated her room with pictures of family and captions so she didn't have to worry about forgetting names. Family came regularly to visit her. She spent most days in the chapel to the point that every one there assumed she was a nun.
Aunt Grace spent almost two years there before she simply couldn't go on. She was in and out of the hospital a few times before we had to make the difficult decision not to have her transferred any further. I explained to her that her heart was beginning to fail and we thought it best to let her stay at the nursing home. "Do you understand what I'm saying, Grace?"
"Yes, I've had a good life and I just want to stay here. It's alright, Alison. I like when you are with me. You make me happy and I thank you for your kindnesses."
I remember crying after I left her that day, thinking I was responsible for the next chapter.
Her health rapidly declined in subsequent weeks. The boys and I visited her regularly; the nuns rewarded the boys by letting them pick out candy from their secret stash. They loved it there - if young boys can love a nursing home.
Grace passed away on New Year's Day, just four days shy of her 96th birthday. My oldest came with me when we got the call. I l left him for a period of time alone with her, to take care of few things, while we waited for the funeral home to arrive. I will never forget walking into the room and there was my son, bouncing a super ball against the wall, directly over Aunt Grace's head.
"What are you doing?!" I exclaimed, "You'll hit her."
"Umm, mom, I don't think it's going to hurt her and she wasn't answering me when I trying to make conversation, you know."
We donated all her things, taking just her rosary and a few other mementos. I remember leaving there with the small bag of items and that's it. 96 years and a few things. A good friend once told me that whenever she saw a hearse, her dad would say, "See? No U-Haul. You can't take it with you."
Aunt Grace was cremated and we kept her urn in our dining room for the weeks prior to her memorial Mass.
It sat quite uneventfully until one afternoon my oldest son said, "Mom? Can you move Aunt Grace?"
"What?" I said, forgetting what on earth he was referring to.
"I'm trying to do my homework in here and I feel like she's staring at me!" he called out.
"Oh," so I went in and moved Aunt Grace to face out the window and watch Mickey play.
She stayed a few more days until we moved her to her final home.
Not unexpectedly, the nuns began the service with "Amazing Grace."