JD's Auntie Hazel passed away last night. And, unknowingly, JD and I visited with her just before she died.
We arrived at the hospital just before visiting hours ended. We had been trying to pay our respects to an acquaintance who lost his brother, but the receiving line at the funeral home was so long, we left so as not to miss a visit with Auntie Hazel, who was recovering from surgery from the broken hip she suffered on Sunday. We are so thankful now that we did this.
When we entered her room and greeted the departing, exhausted immediate family members, we were shocked to see how much she had deteriorated from our visit the day before. The day before she had been so bright and lively with good colour, and was quick to demonstrate how she was able to do all of her rehabilitating exercises - moving her legs and arms, and rotating her feet. An unsettling thought went through my mind at the time: "a candle burns brightest just before going out", but I quickly pushed it away.
Yesterday a whole 'nother Auntie Hazel greeted us. She was uncomfortable and restless. I asked her repeatedly if she wanted me to get the nurse but the answer was always no. As visiting hours ended, I disobeyed her and went to the nursing station to get them to check in on her and investigate her discomfort. Then JD went back to her room to let her know a nurse was coming and away we went after kisses and proclamations of love.
A few errands later, we arrived home just as the phone was ringing - JD's dad calling to tell us the sad news that his sister had passed away. We were shocked. I was overcome with guilt - why hadn't I been more forceful, both with Auntie Hazel and the nurses. Why hadn't we risked a scolding and stayed beyond the visiting hours, to make sure she was looked after properly?
Today I researched signs of dying to see what we had possibly missed. What I learned actually gave me more comfort than I had thought it would. What we didn't realize, was that Auntie Hazel had been showing signs of dying for days already, perhaps the process had started even before she broke her hip. I think the hospital staff knew this, as she had been moved to a private room the 2nd day after her surgery (another little "uh-oh" thought that I had at the time, but also quickly pushed away).
She had no appetite, she was having trouble swallowing, she had that burst of energy and liveliness the day before...perhaps there really had been nothing we could have done. Perhaps the last natural process of each life had begun and couldn't, wouldn't be halted. I try to take comfort from that.
Auntie Hazel would have turned 88 later on this month. She was a truly great lady and an inspiration to me on how to grow old. She was an avid and talented oil painter, a long-time member of the choral group: the Sweet Adelines, a homemaker, a gifted writer, and that all-too-rare someone who really believed in AND exhibited Christian values. She really walked the talk of compassion and kindness and love. I have never met anyone more humble than she. Auntie Hazel saw the absolute best in everyone, and, in the nine years I was lucky to know her I never heard her complain about her circumstances (not always great) or speak ill of anyone she knew.
These characteristics meant that more than a few people commented negatively on her "rose-coloured glasses" approach to life. Auntie Hazel chose to focus on the cup half full rather than half empty. She chose to focus on the good bits in everyone she met, rather than the faults. She believed in the power of love and family and thus was rich in both.
A brilliant mind, Auntie Hazel had to leave her beloved school by grade eight to keep house and raise her younger siblings when her mother had to go to work. (Her brother - JD's dad - also left school and got a work permit at the tender age of 11 to keep the family going, when their alcoholic father was kicked out of the family.)
After a somewhat Dickensian childhood, she fell in love and married, and she and her husband Jack spent 11 years sleeping on a pull-out couch in their living room so her mother could have one bedroom and the kids the other in their tiny war-time home (the same home she left on her final journey to the hospital this past Sunday).
And still later she spent many years nursing her beloved "Jackie" through his final illness, learning to feed him through a tube and ensuring his comfort at all times.
These things I learned, not through any complaining on her part, but through her simple story-telling, describing her life and its "happy" memories. For she really did have so many happy memories, as that was always her focus, her choice.
I am the better person for knowing this extraordinary woman.
I try to comfort myself in thinking that Uncle Jack was waiting in her hospital room last night, waiting for all of their kids to gather to say goodbye (and they did all make it there in time, amazingly), so he could gaze on them gathered together once again, and then finally bring his Hazel home.