*My mother's younger sister died alone in her home in Fremont, Nebraska, sometime within the last day or two***. She was 70 years old.
[***Edited on 10/4/07 to add: It broke my heart to find out from my cousin yesterday that Aunt Kathie apparently died sometime around September 14th, but wasn't found until September 29th, more than two weeks later. I am haunted by this.]
Here is Aunt Kathie as Maid of Honor at my parents' wedding in 1954:
And a more recent photo of her from last year:
Kathie was a heavy smoker and was having breathing difficulties and on oxygen during her last days.
Kathie married once, at age 35, and divorced after about 15 years, never having children. Like her other siblings, she was born in Nebraska, but unlike her siblings, she lived there alone for most of her adult life, save for the companionship of one cat or another.
Aunt Kathie always held a special place in my heart, although I can probably count on one hand the number of times she visited us in Virginia. But we've kept in touch -- in "olden times", by snail mail; more recently by email. Other than a few forwarded jokes in recent months, my last newsy email from her was back in December, in response to happy birthday wishes I'd sent her. In it, she mentioned the bitter Nebraska winter, her new cat, and her plans to stay home and watch the Nebraska-Oklahoma football game on television.
Kathie's death has punctuated a week full of bittersweet reminders of the fragility of my parents' generation. On Thursday, my dad received his first treatment for prostate cancer, and because it involved some outpatient surgery, a few of my siblings and I spent a good amount of time with mom & dad on Thursday and Friday. During that time we observed first-hand how mom has advanced another notch in her mid-stage Alzheimer's. She still remembers who we are, thank God, but is starting to confuse the past and the present, and is fabricating some really creative stories. Pretty much every tale she tells now is a mish-mash of the past, the present, and outright fiction, and would be entertaining if it wasn't so painful.
I'm really hoping my parents can attend Kathie's funeral. I've always related to Aunt Kathie possibly more closely than my other siblings have, as I, too, am a single, childless gal who lives alone except for a couple of cats. I would hate to think that if-and-when I die alone, my siblings wouldn't attend my funeral. I do think it's important that my mom attend while she still understands what's going on. Perhaps the event might even make it into her long-term memory, and stay awhile. Or perhaps it's more merciful that she forget, and be spared the grieving.
It's been a tough week.