Some of my readers know that the last two months have been a bit hard for regarding my beloved great-aunt Margot. So this is a bit of heavyhearted post, but I promise there is a point to be so long-winded and for what I thought was a beautiful lesson.
My aunt Margot, who is 93, had a heart attack and a stroke in June. She miraculously survived and she is doing now a lot better again. Of course the stroke took it’s toll and her dementia is now worsened to a point that we cannot fulfill her wish anymore to stay alone in her apartment.
About 15 years ago my aunt Margot had asked me if I would be her care taker and back then when I was in my mid twenties, I said of course yes, but I was also scared and I didn’t see why she would need to think about dementia and/or her passing away. She would set up photos and talk about how she would like to have things handled if the “unspeakable” would happen. She chose an elderly home but made me do a promise, that I would let her live in her apartment as long as possible and I did so. The last yeas she had meals on wheels, someone doing grocery shopping for her and running errands and nurses coming in in the morning and the evening to help her.
When aunt Margot recovered a bit from her heart attack and stroke I was told she would under no circumstance be able to live alone in her apartment any longer, even if I continued with the services that were set up for her. I had decided long ago that I would talk openly with her about decisions and so I thought it would the hardest day when I finally went to tell her. It wasn’t. She has always been a very positive and also practical person and when we talked about her going to an elderly home, she actually said, that she understands that this is a good decision. She was sad, but I could also tell she was relieved because the last incident had scared her a lot.
Two days before my flight was scheduled to Canada a room in the elderly home she had picked, freed up and we had to move her in within a week. Needless to say it was a bad timing and that the two days before my long trip were a nightmare to organize everything, especially if you take into account that I live about 4 hours away from her. My husband then took care of the first wave of furniture, setting her room up and making sure she would get into the new home finding some of her beloved belongings. The rest I had to take care of later when I was back from the trip.
She adjusted well, although a bit sad in her new home. The nurses told me that they love her, she is a happy person and she is such a good spirit that she even makes the grumpiest guys that never laugh, giggle. My other great-aunt, Waltraud, who is 86, actually took it a lot harder. I think, the thought of being in this position maybe soon, is weighing very hard on her. Also seeing my aunt Margot forgetting how to do every day life things, like how to comb her hair or how to fix a roll for breakfast is something that she and also I have a hard time to digest.
I spare you with a lot of things that had to be done in between, I am sure that many of you have been already in similar situations, so you know about the emotional rollercoaster ride, the worries about your loved ones, the huge amount of work and logistics that go along with it, the unspeakable time you have to spent on paperwork (one more stupid letter from health insurance and I might go bonkers!), paying bills and bills and sorting things. But I would like to point one thing out….LOL- the thing that this whole post was actually going to be about.
As the room of my aunt in her elderly home is just a small room, I had to go through all her belongings in her huge 2-bed room (3-Zimmer Wohnung in Deutschland) apartment. It never occurred to me what an emotional draining process this would be. Yes, I know she is still alive and I am sure it is even harder if you have to go through the things when you lost your loved one. But nonetheless, mind you, there is someone who you have to tell why a certain piece can’t make it’s way to the new home. The short disappointed look, with some tears building up, and then she catches herself and says “oh well, it is all ok, I just don’t think about it, it is what it is and I have a good home here” And on the other hand you have these beautiful moments, when you carried in another one of her little treasures and how her face lightens up and she is all giddy with excitement and tells you a story that belongs to that certain piece with that you just made her day with.
Going through things that my aunt had treasured made me cry all the time. Taking all her things in my hand and making the decision to either, bring it to her, give it to someone else, take it myself or throw it away has made me almost crazy. Even my husband who helped me some of the days was visibly touched by this process. (It’s ok hubs, Dudes have feelings too 😉 ).
These are things that someone took a whole live to collect. So many things: photos, slides (thousands from 1963 to 2003), tchotchke, vases, table clothes, clothing, papers, letters, books, music, medicine (anyone up for some medicine outdated in the 50s?), the gun that I had to call the police for to collect (what was she thinking? That she would shoot the intruder while holding on to her walker?), crafting boxes with finished and unfinished pieces, Christmas-Easter-EveryDay-Decoration, glasses, handbags throughout every decade of her life… the list could go on and on.
And then there are those dishes – the sets. There is the one that she got for her wedding in the 40s – a whole coffee and dinner set – 24 pieces each single item. It was the one for the super special occasions – 12 pieces her wedding set and the fitting 12 set that was from even earlier as my great grandparents got it for their wedding. It fit into three moving boxes!
And then the 10-piece set. The one that was for the normal special occasions. And the one for normal special Sundays. And the better 6-piece set for a better dinner and of course the 6 -piece set for the everyday life- oh wait, there is two of those sets.
My husband and I decided to take the 24 piece one—-I know…..it is a LOT…but I couldn’t live with the thought of just dumping it and we were saying…you know what…we can use it for super special occasions and it is a family heirloom.
When I was talking to my other aunt, Waltraud, we were talking about how hard it is to do these decisions. So I mentioned the special dishes and she looked at me and said something that stuck to me in such a way, it made me write this post.
She said: “You know….there is one thing I already regret and it might sound weird, but I do regret that I did not use my special dishes every day especially when I knew that Walter (explaining note: my uncle who died a couple of years ago of cancer), would die soon. Why do we not make every day special and use those plates? And so what, if one of those dishes breaks! You and Jim should use it every day now, otherwise you will just hoard it in your cabinet, the special occasions will be less and less and in the end….one of your younger relatives will take it and also just store it in their cabinet until they have a special occasion they can use it. What is the point of it? Think about it!”
Have you heard what she said? I did. I swallowed hard. She is so right. What is the special special occasion? Isn’t every day worth to celebrate with the wonderful things you have? These things are dear to you because you chose them – USE THEM! Isn’t every day special? Aren’t you special enough to use your special dishes, or the special dress or to spent time on something special on a normal day! You are Worthy – so go and do something special tomorrow, and if it is just setting up the dinner table with the super special dishes you have.