My only aunt on my dad’s side of the family has been a nursing home resident for the past 28 years arriving at the age of 58 with a broken hip. Like her mother, my grandmother, she had always walked with a limp. Osteoporosis, I believe, caused a weakness in the hip that just gave out.
She never married, having had some developmental and mental disability, and lived a quiet life at home with her parents until their passing. At her parents’ passing my dad was made her guardian. My mother took over those responsibilities when my dad developed frontal temperal dementia and was no longer able to see after his younger sister. In fact my mom pre-planned funeral arrangements for my aunt before my aunt’s resources were depleted and she had to go on Medicaid.
My mother was good to my aunt. My aunt dearly loved my mother, calling her ‘Sister’. Though my mother was never able to take my aunt into her home, she always saw to her needs and made it a point to be with her as much as she could.
When my mother’s health began to fade, the role became mine. I must say I have enjoyed and cherished the time with my Aunt Eunice. Over the past ten years I have driven to her nursing home in southern Virginia on the average of four times a year. We have developed a much enjoyed ritual: I pick her up early in the morning and we go to a pancake house for breakfast. There I know just what she loves – eggs sunny side up, bacon, biscuit and country gravy. She savors every bite.
Afterward, we head for WalMart. There I find a wheelchair cart, and my aunt thoroughly enjoys the experience of selecting snacks, toiletries, and a few pieces of clothing to enjoy. She loves being in the huge store among many shoppers. Our finale for the day is a trip to a Long John Silvers for fish. We then hug goodbye and I drive back to Ohio until our next outing in some three months.
I am not my aunt’s only niece. In fact she has six besides myself. Three of them live great distances away and are unable to visit but they send notes and gifts throughout the year.
In the past few months my aunt’s health has gone down markedly. I have made more frequent trips to be with her. She was in intensive care a few weeks ago for kidney failure. I am returning this week to be with her for two doctor appointments.
I am writing these lines today for two reasons. One, I feel sad for my cousins who have missed out on the joy of being with my aunt and really appreciating her love for them.
The other is that long-distance caregiving for me, now that I am getting older, is not easy. To have appealed to the cousins for support and realized they are unable or unwilling to step up is an added stress.
My brother and I were fortunate that we both shared the care of our mother, and we had the joy of being with her through her later years.
I now understand a bit of what it must be like for you who are the sole caregivers of a loved one and have family who choose not to participate.