Archive for August, 2010

My Aunt Died of Stubbornness

2010/08/11 2 comments

My aunt died of stubbornness. That may sound like a strange statement, but I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life.

Let me back up. We all die. Someday. If we eat badly we may die of a heart attack. If we hang around dangerous areas in the city we may die of an impromptu stabbing. If we drive recklessly we may die in a fiery crash. But if we do none of these we still die.

However, if we die of the heart attack, people say “He never took care of their diet. He died because of their diet.”

If we die of stabbing they say “I’ve told him a zillion times to be more careful where he goes. He died because he went where he should have avoided”.

If we die in a crash they say “What can he expect driving the way he did? His driving killed him”.

So even if we expect that death is inevitable and that we all die of old age eventally, there is a recognition that certain events can bring on death. And that is why I say my aunt died of stubbornness.

My aunt was 83 when she passed away. She was one degree away from being a recluse, leaving her home less than 4 times a year. She was overweight. She had cholesterol level up the wazoo! So you may think it obvious that she died of those things.

But three years ago I decided for myself that she was no longer functional enough to live unattended. I didn’t push it, but I recognized the time had come when the situation  was becoming untenable. I wasn’t ready to push the family yet, but I knew in my mind the time was coming.

Every year we get together (got together) at my aunt’s house for a “near-Christmas” dinner,  This was where we made a point of visiting her in a party mood with a timetable that did not conflict with the zillion plans everyone has for the holidays. At this last one, my sister noticed a really abnormal amount of mosquitoes. Please realize we live in South Florida so enough mosquitoes to raise our attention is a huge amount of the things. I pointed ths out to my sister and to my aunt’s granddaughter to indicate “the time has come”.

Now with their support we found a great ALF (Assisted Living Facility). I cannot praise these institutions enough. They are almost the exact opposite of what we used to call “Old Folk’s Homes”. These are organized as individual houses with 5-10 residents. They are in residential neighborhoods. You could have one next door to you. The key is that their quality of life is far beyond what we used to think of when “we need to send x to a ‘home'”.

My aunt refused to go for 4 months.

No matter what I did, what my sister did, what her granddaughter did, she refused. Sometimes in a quiet way. Sometimes in a boisterous way. But always in a concrete way. “I’m not going”.

Eventually we had the “disaster”. I got a call from a cousin that she had tried to call my aunt and gotten no response. She visited my aunt and was not able to get in, but my aunt said through the door that she had fallen and was unable to open the door. My cousin called me, I rushed over, and the short story is that we spent the night and part of the next day in the emergency room. Best as we could determine she had spent two days on the floor.

The one good thing that came out of that episode was that my aunt had no choice but to move to the ALF. She went directly from the emergency room there.

And there was a big surprise. She loved it. Within a couple of days she was comfortable. By the end of the week she was telling family how nice the other residents were. The situation seemed to have turned out much better than we could ever have hoped.

The second Friday we got a call from the ALF just to let us know that they had sent my aunt to hospital because she was complaining about upset stomach. I assumed that was the ALF being extra cautious with a new patient. But when I visited her on Saturday I immediately realized this was not the case. She was bloated and looked absolutely awful. Talking with the doctor let me discover that she had a serious pool of blood behind her abdomen. That by the time she had come to the hospital a significant amount of damage had already occurred to her organs.

Also not to belabor this episode, she was dead in two days.

What I learned from all this

(a) The ALF was the right choice. Not by my estimate, but by my aunt’s reaction.

(b) My aunt was “healthy” enough to have lasted another year or two.

(c) My aunt missed out on a couple of years of higher quality of life than she had been living by refusing to go earlier.

Those years were stolen by her own stubbornness. She did not need to die when she did. She could have stuck around a bit longer to the natural end of here life. All gone.

So it makes me think, what am I stubborn about. Are all the things I fight for worth fighting for. What am I missing out by refusing some path. I am sorry she is gone, and hope that stupid stubbornness never bring another episode like that into my life.


Categories: Personal