I wrote this in February, the month of Aunt Laura’s birthday, but just decided to post it today.
One Easter, Aunt Laura, in her Sunday dress, pearls, white pumps, and classic white hair, knelt on the floor, nose to the ground, and showed the grandkids how to roll Easter eggs with their noses. I can still see her laughing.
Every year we convened at Aunt Laura’s split level on Hazelwood Avenue to celebrate Uncle Sven’s birthday. It was an afternoon party, just Grandma (Aunt Laura’s sister) and Grandpa, and us moms with our kids, a casual affair with pizza on thin, white paper plates. The cake was typically a “homemade” cake mix, slathered with frosting from a can, neither fancy nor memorable.
But there were always candles and the birthday song. Old Uncle Sven would sit at one end of the dining table, a grin wrinkling his already wrinkled face, while we sang. At the end, Aunt Laura would sing, “God’s blessings on you” to the tune of “Happy Birthday,” and everyone joined in.
After Uncle Sven died, there were no more birthday parties at Hazelwood Avenue. Aunt Laura moved to a more manageable place. But soon even that became unmanageable. For awhile Aunt Laura had a live in companion and then she moved into a nursing home.
I miss Aunt Laura, the one who rolled Easter eggs with her nose. I used to send her birthday cards, until I realized she didn’t know it was her birthday and didn’t even remember who I was. Grandma still sends her cards. She also sends out reminders that it’s Aunt Laura’s birthday, along with Aunt Laura’s address, just in case we’ve misplaced it. So we have no excuse. That’s Grandma’s way.
What she doesn’t know is that every February, I remember it’s Aunt Laura’s birthday. Every February I think how sad it is that Aunt Laura won’t care about all the birthday cards taped on her wall.
Grandma and Grandpa faithfully visit Aunt Laura at the nursing home, hoping always for some glimmer of recognition — maybe not so much that Aunt Laura would recognize them, but that they would recognize the old Laura they knew and loved.
Grandma emails reports of her visit, describing how Aunt Laura did or did not respond. Usually I don’t reply. Mostly I don’t know what to say. I don’t have an explanation Grandma would understand. I know Grandma probably wishes we would visit, or at least send a card. I don’t see the point.
I realize people have their reasons for making visits to people who no longer recognize them. It’s a personal thing, and I respect that. More often than not, it probably helps the visitor feel better. That’s good, too.
I don’t deny that it’s nice to imagine that people will continue to visit me when I’m senile. But I’m not sure it will make much difference if I don’t know about it. What I do know is that I don’t ever want someone to visit out of pure obligation. I’m not sure that kind of visit benefits anyone.
Recently it became increasingly obvious that the visits were not going well. Aunt Laura would not respond or she became more agitated. So Grandma and Grandpa curtailed their visits. I don’t know that Aunt Laura recognized their absence.
It has been a slow fade, a long goodbye. We haven’t left Aunt Laura. She’s leaving us.