My great aunt Edy is one of the coolest ladies I have ever known.
She grew up in D.C., taught ballroom dance classes for Arthur Murray, and married a man who loved her for years before he had the courage to ask her out. When asked why she married Uncle Bill, she replies, “I admired his qualities.”
Edy married Bill during World War Two. He was an air force pilot and ended up career air force, moving the family around all over the world. My aunt collected all kinds of neat things from Japan and Germany and France and around the US, and has amazing stories to tell about her life’s adventures.
Uncle Bill died in 1990, and her daughter (my mom’s cousin) lives in rural Canada, does not drive and refuses to fly. Her son (my mom’s other cousin) is still working in China. He has two kids, both of whom live about a 3-hour drive away from Edy. Aunt Edy lives alone.
She’s always been a social, active lady, swimming daily in the spring-fed pool at the park, taking clogging and line dancing classes with people many years her junior (she’s 87!) She’s never been sick or in the hospital other than to have her children. Other than macular degeneration, she hasn’t ever had a thing wrong with her, physically. She’s in fantastic shape and has a terrific outlook on life and love, writing down her thoughts daily and sharing them with my mom and her kids.
I’ve been to Texas a bunch of times to visit Edy, the last time being the summer of 2005. It was obvious that Edy was starting to slow down a little – she was getting reluctant to drive, particularly to drive anywhere outside her few haunts in the town where she lives (grocery store, aerobics class, the park with the pool). Also, her mind wasn’t what it used to be – she would repeat herself throughout the day, and seemed the most lucid when talking about the past. We spent most of that visit cooped up in her house in the sweltering July heat, looking at old photos and letters and the cool old family Bible from 1840-something, and I took pictures of the house so Hulk could see all the cool antiques and paintings and stuff that made it Aunt Edy’s house (he’s still never met her).
Last summer, Edy got dizzy while trying to mow her lawn in 100+F heat and Texas humidity. She called her son in China, he called his son in College Station, and she got taken in to the doctor. They didn’t find anything wrong, and she seemed to perk up a bit. And she was told NOT to try to mow her own acre-large backyard again, especially not in the summer heat. A few months later, she had some more dizzy spells and her arm started to hurt. Her son came back from China to get her more medical help – again, nothing specific. At that point, they started talking about having her move into an assisted living place, either in Texas or in California to be closer to my mom. But no, she was stubborn and didn’t want to leave her house or her friends or everything she’d known for the last 30 years.
When we were in California for a visit a couple of weeks ago, my mom called me at the Irish German’s house to tell me that Edy might have had a heart attack or a stroke. The cousin of my generation drove over to stay with her, noticing that she hadn’t been to the grocery store in at least a month. He got her food, dealt with her medical care – again, nothing specific was actually wrong with her. Edy’s son flew back from China to insist on arranging for Edy’s placement into an assisted living facility – if nothing else, so she wouldn’t be alone and would have lots of other people around, she being such a social person. My mom called me again today to tell me she will be going to Texas for a few weeks to help Edy move, to organize, pack, and give away many of the things in her house (so as not to have to deal with it later, probate and all that). The house will be kept in the family, but all of Edy’s personal things and collections of cool paintings and furniture and knicknacks, everything that makes it her home, will either go with her to the new place or go to my family, since neither of my mom’s cousins or her cousin’s kids want anything.
I will be flying to Texas in a week or ten days to help my mom process all of the things that are physical reminders of Edy’s life. I don’t know how long Edy will live in the new place; apparently, she’s fading fast, going to bed at 4 PM and waking up at midnight, never leaving her comfy chair. She can’t read or write or watch TV easily because of the macular degeneration, so she just sits. My mom’s cousin has to return to China at the end of the month, so my mom will be out there to overlap his visit and get all the paperwork finalized. Then she will need help.
It seems to me like Aunt Edy is almost more like a mother to my mom than her own mother was (mom’s mother died when she was 21). I know this is going to be a very difficult thing for her – it’s hard for me, and I’ve only met Edy about 10 times. But she’s an amazing woman with an incredible wealth of stories and knowledge. I had hoped at one point that because she was so healthy, physically, she’d live to be 100 and my kids, were I to have any, would get to meet her and know her for the amazing person that she is. But she herself has been “ready to go anytime” as she puts it for quite a while, now. She wants to be with her husband and her sister and doesn’t understand why she keeps waking up in the morning. Her own mother, my great grandmother, died in her sleep at age 80, and I think Edy expected to do the same. “I’m past my expiration date!” she kept saying, a grin on her beautiful face, when I was there in July of 05.
Aunt Edy, there is no expiration date for such a wonderful, beautiful person. I hope against hope that Hulk will get to meet you before you dance off into the sunset with Uncle Bill, and I fully expect that when you do you’ll make good on your promise to “come back and knock some heads around once I get my wings!” I’m not a particularly religious person, but if anyone has what it takes to come back and be a guardian angel, it’s you.