Sunday, July 25, 2010

Aunt "Cookie"

She always had that nickname, long before whatever it was that happened to her happened to her. She was....normal, as it were. She had a job; she drove; she was healthy; she was as groovy as anybody could expect anyone to be.

I'm not sure how many years ago now the youngest of my paternal grandmother's three children began her descent into what I can only call mental oblivion. I only saw her two or three times a year to begin with. I'm sure there was plenty of discussion of her as my made my way through school and adolescence. I tend to live in my own little world anyway, so, add those two things, and see you in a decade, more or less. But I did notice when she consistently failed to get Dinah the dog's name right after a number of visits. ("Diane"...."Dayna"....) I had heard about her (Cookie) being in the hospital for a little while, but only sort of in passing. A short time later, we met again, and it was obvious — she was grooming herself very poorly, if at all, and my mother was miffed at being identified by her as "Jim's sister." (As far as I know, Jim was an only child and only ever married to, and divorced from, my other aunt. It's all my father's family in Chicago; all my mother's family is in Israel, England, or Florida, except Mom.)

All this time, Cookie is very much being looked after by her husband. Jack is rather different from most of the family, with motorcycles and guns among his favorite topics, but he loves Cookie. Always has.....still does. He's been by her side all the way.

It went on. A Thanksgiving or two later, after Jim had died, she was a very nervous wreck. She moaned the phrase "Oh no!" at regular intervals when there was nothing apparent happening. At the dinner table, she would ask "Where's [insert family member here]?" of everyone. I don't remember how we responded when she asked about Jim, but I do remember my other aunt saying "I was waiting for her to ask." I was still kind of semi-oblivious, I guess; when she asked about me, I gave a friendly wave, grinned, and went back to eating my drumstick. (We take food seriously in our family.) After the meal, she and Jack found it necessary to have her collapse in my bed for a while. I kept an eye on her as I sat at the computer, which happens to be in that room.

From this point until Christmas of last year, my memory is dim. I don't know when it was that she started falling and badly bruising herself. There are photographs of her in the hospital with nasty bruises and, I think, a number of teeth missing. Not pretty. I believe she's been in "the hospital" ever since. She's changed places a few times. I've only seen her twice since then myself, but I think she was in a place or two that I never saw. Christmas of last year, we went to see her in a place in Glen Ellyn. Or Glendale Heights. Whichever it was, it's three expressways and then some from West Rogers Park. In Chicago snow and ice. But that's beside the point.

When they eventually let us in to see her, the person they presented to us seemed incapable of speech. Of whether or not she recognized everyone we couldn't be certain. Occasionally she would emit a sort of moaning sound, and she often pulled the covers of the kind of mobile easy chair she was in over her face. At the time, the surest sign of the aunt I knew was at the very end of our visit, when I went alone to bid her farewell and she waved.

That was in December of 2009. Fast-forward to May or June, I don't quite remember which, of 2010.

The location now was, and from all reports is, a nursing home in Des Plaines. In the corner of a dimly lit room that smelled unnaturally like a high school chemistry lab lay a figure. She was essentially a skeleton without teeth. She could not make any vocal sounds at all, and she seemed oblivious to our being there. In fact, we stood outside the room for a little while as someone, um, changed her. During that time in the hall, another patient approached us and asked where she was. I told her, "You are wherever you wish to be."

I'm not so sure I believe that, mind you. It sounds nice, spiritual, optimistic, and all that stuff. But I sure didn't want to be seeing my 57 or 58-year-old aunt reduced to what many people cheerfully call a "vegetable."

And, apparently, nobody knows why she's become a vegetable. There is no explanation for her descent from a full-fledged, vibrant adult into mental oblivion. All I hear from my family is that she's "the same," and that "the sooner she goes, the better."

Lest you wonder, Jack still goes to see her about three times a week, or so I'm told. I'm not sure when I last saw Jack, although he does keep in touch over the telephone with my other aunt, who happens to be an award-winning palliative care nurse.

I don't remember much about Cookie's personality as a mentally healthy individual. But the prompt for my posting all this is a dream I had last night, in which a young, healthy Cookie was alive. There were some distant relatives that I'm not sure who they were, but Cookie was alive, and she was pleasant. She smiled, she spoke with just a hint of Chicago accent, and, oddly enough, she was cooking something.

Also starring in my dream was a sweetly curled Lucy. Lucy seemed to be in fine mental shape, if slightly bent and frail physical shape, when she made her midnight exit documented here a few posts down.

After lying in my bed for a while, feeling like I'd been in a matter transference beam that messed up, my head was quite filled with thoughts of life, death, spirits and the threads that make up the fabric of the universe. And so I hope you've been able to dig the expression of my thoughts here in cyberspace; after all, that's what I believe this blog is for.

Peace and love.

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