This day is one of those days you would run from in the morning if you knew where it would lead to 12 hours later. One of those “you never know what’s going to happen” days. In a split second, it twists and turns in directions never imagined.
There are no ordinary days, so do not treat one more as if it is. I don’t want to write this but I need to mark this day. To honor my Aunt Terry who passed away at 10:41 am this morning. Our last earthly tie to Dad. We never really grieve for the dead, but for those left behind.
87 years old young. Up until last Thursday, driving, booking three appointments each day, swimming at the community center, playing cards, picking up friends for lunch, making soup or ham salad and dropping it off. Always ready to go out and grab a beer or her favorite – a brandy manhattan. One tough, outspoken, soft-hearted friend and soul. That is what is worth celebrating. Her spirit, spunk and energy up until the very end.
She fell last Thursday walking into the eye clinic to have her glasses adjusted. 9 hours later in St. Joseph’s Hospital, with a broken bone in her neck and several facial fractures, still fiery as ever. Her cane was safely tucked away in her car. Second guessing and “what ifs” always catch us up in useless pondering.
After a weekend checking in and out, meeting the outstanding compassionate nurses and doctors, today was the day she was actually going to make it out with a broken-damn neck to transitional care. After we left yesterday afternoon, she called and said she was getting out today to go home. I told her she would be making a pit stop at transitional care first. And rather than calling her nurse, I was prompted to go down in person (thank God) to talk to her nurse in person and check in on Terry.
She never swore and didn’t like it at all. But she called the pureed food, “shit on a shingle.” She told me last night that the phrase came from the soldiers in World War II. She was a soldier for sure. She sang in the choir up until a week ago, sang at hundreds of funerals, checked on friends and all of us.
I told her last night that I would swing by this morning on the way to work for 30 minutes to verify what transitional care she was getting into, make sure it was a private room and hopefully in the new part of the building.
When I arrived at 8:03 to get my badge, they said she changed rooms. As I went up on the elevator, I thought “what the hell for?” I high-stepped it down the hall, turned the corner to a blue light blinking (code blue – one step before the final lights – code red) and medical personnel rushing into the room. Praying it wasn’t her room, but I knew. They quickly escorted me down the hall to the “waiting room” – that familiar room we spend many years of our life in. Not before I asked “what the hell is going on?” Cardiac arrest. Frantic phone calls and more waiting. A total of three cardiac arrests later, it was time to let go and say good-bye until we meet again.
There actually is real comfort in imagining the family reunion and pure peace that comes with passing. The only comfort actually.
So to Aunt Theresa Valarie Pugaczewski. Thank you for your dedication, opinions, sass, vigor, generosity, unconditional love, complaining about the right cottage cheese – Land O’Lake 2% over Kemps every damn day of the week and peach Activia yogurt. I told her speech therapist and nurse who cried with us today that they could keep the unopened cottage cheese and yogurt we picked up yesterday and that they should recommend Land O’Lakes to the hospital.
As I left last night, Terry did inform me that I didn’t bring the right things in the bag I packed last Thursday and that she would make a list. Last night, I told her I would get whatever she needed tomorrow if I missed something (internally a little pissy – again, thank God). When I opened her address book today at her house to begin preparations for her funeral with the family, she had that damn list written out. Oh, how I wish I could be irritated and fulfill my orders right now.
Long detailed story for a reason. Please value each day as if it may never come again with those you love, because one day, you will be right. No regrets for me at all. God gave me the gift and others in my family to be irritated one more time this weekend and to be present in tough times. To hold her hand and walk in on a code blue and wait is something I didn’t get with Dad three years ago. Being there when it happened was a gift too.
As Laura Story so brilliantly says in her song Blessings,
“What if my greatest disappointments
Or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy
What if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are your mercies in disguise”
So, this day will be marked like a birthday, celebrating loved ones being born. Today, we honor a life of 87 years well lived, generously, honestly, abundantly, gratefully, imperfectly, faithfully, humanly and lovingly. Aunt Terry, give Dad one long hug for me and thank you for a life well lived. Well done, good and faithful servant!
“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’”– Matthew 25:23