My Aunt Betty, who had been bedfast while in hospice care for two or three years at her home in the southern Illinois village of Bluford, died the other day.
My aunt had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and it had been some time since she had recognized most of us. My Uncle Glenn — her husband and one of my mother’s four brothers — and their seven children helped care for her until he died nearly two years ago.
Always petite, Aunt Betty had been especially frail during these years. When my mother and I visited her a few months ago, she was hardly recognizable. Illness had taken its toll. Doctors and family were amazed at my aunt’s resilience; they had not expected her to live so long. Family gathered when she contracted pneumonia a few months ago, surely an insurmountable hurdle for her. But Aunt Betty recovered.
During her final few days, she did not eat. Her time had come, and she died quietly.
Our extended family will always remember the particular care extended to her by her children, most of whom lived nearby. Two of my cousins, both women, took turns being with her and caring for her daily needs. The others spelled them when they could. Every mother should have such loving and dedicated offspring.
My pool of aunts and uncles on the Richardson side of the family — my mother’s side — has been shrinking for several years. I no longer have seven aunts and seven uncles on that side. Uncle Glenn and Aunt Betty are gone now, as are Uncle Bob and Aunt Verna. Uncle Bill and Aunt Helen, Uncle Lester and Aunt Virgene, Uncle Basil and Aunt Dorothy and Uncle Jimmy.
Only my mother, a widow, and her brother Owen remain from the original eight children. Uncle Owen and his wife, my Aunt Shirley, as well as my Uncle Jimmy’s widow, Aunt Wanda, are to date the lone survivors of that pool of 14 aunts and uncles.
The truth is that each of these influenced — and helped raise — not only their own children but also their nieces and nephews, whose numbers were (and are still) legion. Many times we gathered out at the farm where they grew up to eat together and simply to be together. When I was a child, simply being together was enough.
Each death among them is a reminder that a generation our family had come to depend upon is moving on to their eternal reward. My generation is coming closer to being on our own. Many of my cousins are the patriarchs and matriarchs of their particular family lines now. Some have been for several years.
I wonder if our generation will come close to measuring up to this fading generation’s example in terms of faith, parenting, mentoring (a concept they all employed but a word probably none of them ever used), guiding and disciplining, teaching respect, and giving and commanding, in a sense, the love of those around them.
There wasn’t a zinger among them. Growing up in my grandparents’ home, they likely never imagined the family blessings they would ultimately experience. Nor could others have imagined the holy influence they made on their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces and nephews and others.
Right now I rejoice with my cousins that Aunt Betty has been freed from the bonds of her illness and only days ago was able to walk on her own through the heavenly gates. This occasion reminds me of how much I miss those who have preceded her.