There are a few good things about being present as someone dies.
1) You encounter caring and professional people in the nurses and other caregivers. It’s easy to feel cynical about everything in the world these days, so interacting with compassionate people who know their stuff was restorative.
2) You get to spend a lot of time with family and friends. How often do you get to spend days with your relatives? This may be some people’s worst nightmare, but I enjoyed and found comfort in it.
My cousin Molly, my mom, and I spent an afternoon going through old family photos. There was this gem:
“Who is he?” I asked my mom. “He looks like a US Marshall, or maybe a wild west sheriff.”
“He’s a … food … he’s … uh … oh darn it!” said my mom helplessly. She’s always had learning disabilities but since she had a stroke she has found it more and more difficult to get her words out. It’s called aphasia.
From her hospital bed, my aunt croaked, “That’s our grandpa, William Dudley. He’s the one who got the letter from a London solicitor about the Dudley inheritance.”
“The Dudley Inheritance” is family lore that was newsworthy enough to be chronicled in the St. Paul newspaper. William, a hapless, dirt-poor farmer, received a letter from a London solicitor informing him he had inherited £500,000. He went to London—no small undertaking—but the story goes that he had to return because World War I broke out. He would never talk about it later.
“But he returned in 1911,” I said, as I Googled “world war i, dates” on my phone. “World War I didn’t start until 1914.”
It was probably a scam, and I would love to know more about how it was perpetrated. In 1911 there was no Internet. How did the “London solicitors” find William, and why did they target him? He didn’t have any money to scam.
“After the farm failed, he moved to St. Paul and was a health inspector,” my aunt continued. “That’s when that photo was taken. It wasn’t much of a job. He had to live with us.”
“Poor grandpa,” my mom said mournfully. “He died in our house. He had cancer, and Daddy used to take us out for walks at night to get us away from the sound of his screaming. He was in agony. We could still hear his screams a block away.”
I diverted the conversation. “This is cool!”
It was the naturalization papers of the Ur Dudley, Robert, who immigrated to America in 1854.
“He had ‘to renounce all allegiance to any prince, potentate …’” I read aloud.
“I love that word, potentate,” Molly said.
“… in particular ‘Victoria, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.’”
A few days later, I was going through more family papers with my mom. “Who was John Geisen?” I asked her, handing over a marriage certificate.
“John Geisen … Jacob? That was Daddy Jake. No, it was … Joe? John? Oh, I don’t know!” she hissed in frustration. “I can’t remember it all.”
By this time my aunt was still breathing but had spoken her last words. The last person who knew the answers to the family history questions was gone.
My poor mother. She’s the last sibling standing. When I called to relate the funeral details, I had to repeat them over and over. Her abilities are especially strained when she’s tired or stressed.
“My penmanship is terrible now,” she said, exasperated. “The funeral is at night?”
“No, mom, at eleven in the morning,” I said.
“At night … no, morning … 10 o’clock?”
“No, eleven o’clock.”
“Oh, Jesus H. Mary!” she exclaimed.
My mother never swears except for the occasional “shit.” I have no idea what Jesus H. Mary means except that she was at the end of her rope and it provided some comic relief to Molly and me.
Speaking of comic relief, here is my favorite Japanese hotel website so far.
I’m afraid it’s hard to read, but I did not book here. Since one must indicate one’s gender when reserving a Japanese hotel room, I was afraid my reservation might signal an unhealthy interest in the “multifunctional shower heads popular with female guests.”