The Real Meaning of Family

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I was 29 years old and after working for two verbally abusive bosses for 5 years, as well as constantly defending myself, I had had enough. I was in a deep depression. I had lost parts of myself. I no longer laughed (I laughed a lot). I no longer cared to paint my nails after 20 years of faithful meticulous care and it was too much to have a conversation with anyone. I felt incompetent, useless and a waste of space. I had a fissure in my soul and I had no idea how I could rectify it.

During the time I was working we had two elderly Aunts, one we were close to and the other we were not. The Aunt we were close to died and the only living relative on my mother’s side was Aunt Gertrude. We had never been close to her but my mother felt no matter what had happened in the past she was elderly now and she needed to stay in touch with her.

She began to call her regularly and check on her. They would talk for a while and that was it. At the time my Aunt whom was 85 years old, could still clean her house, shop for her herself and care for herself.

We celebrated her 85th Birthday. My mother made empanadas, Spanish roast pork, baked macaroni and cheese, collard greens and we had champagne. She thoroughly enjoyed the meal and the champagne. She said, “It makes me feel so gay,” and giggled. We also brought her a cake and had her nickname inscribed on it, “Gertie.” We presented the cake to her with candles and sang happy birthday. She began to cry. We asked her what was wrong; did she like the cake? She said, “You made it out to Gertie.” We asked her again did she like it. She sobbed yes. My mother felt awkward standing and holding the cake. She asked what should we do. I told her to just let her cry it out and we would sing happy birthday after. She sobbed for a good 2 minutes more and then we sang to her. She said that was the best birthday she had had in a long time.

She began to fall in the middle of the night. She didn’t really turn on that many lights in the night. She seemed to feel her away around. This caused her to fall sometimes and she was unable to get herself up. The first time my mother went over there and she had to call the police and the fire department because my mother did not have a key. They had to break down her door and my mother rode to the hospital with her. She was all right, just bruised and my mother brought her back to the house. We offered to stay with her or have her come and stay with us. She did not want that. She said this was a single incident and she would be fine. Two weeks later she fell again. At this time I was no longer working. At 3:ooam we took a cab over to her place and called the police and fire department.

They arrived and had to break down the door again because she still would not give us the key. They tore apart the door and my mother rode to hospital with her again. I stayed in the house because we did not want anyone to break in. I kept looking out the window to see if they pulled up (we did not have a cell phone at the time either). The elevator wasn’t working and we needed to somehow bring her up 4 flights of stairs. I spotted the car through the window and ran down with her walker and met them at the car. They were so happy to see me, especially Aunt Gertrude. She said to my mother, “Look the little angel came down.” I put the walker in front of her and stayed behind her to steady her as she walked. We finally came to the stairs. I again stayed behind her to steady her. When she took a step I was a step behind her holding her as she moved her walker. After three breaks we finally made it to the apartment. We put her in bed and she gave us the keys. We told her she needed an attendant. She agreed and we were able to have one within two days.

We would come over and visit her with the attendant. Fortunately, she was a good attendant. We made sure she was not stealing from her and taking good care of her. During the visits my mother would cook for her. She also took her to her appointments. The clinic was horrible. They would not take her for hours, even though she had been there since 8:30am. Most of the time she waited a minimum of three hours. My mother would yell and scream at the staff. She pleaded with them that this was an old lady and she should not have to wait out in the hall that long, but to no avail. We decided to change hospitals because my mother could not handle the inconsideration.

She was doing well and then she came down with pneumonia. She stayed in the hospital for two weeks. They ran test upon test and even re-did some tests. My mother and I visited her everyday. We varied our times so that we could make sure she was getting the care she needed and our visits would not be predictable. Sometimes when my mother was too tired I would go by myself. On one visit they were trying to re-run a test of checking her colon. They had done this at least 5 times by now. I said, “No, this woman is 85 years old and if there had been anything wrong they would have found it in the previous tests. She should be allowed to rest comfortably and not be violated over and over.” The doctor ignored me and asked my Aunt directly. My Aunt agreed to the test. I said, “Are you sure?” My Aunt said it was all right. I went around the corner to give them privacy but fixed the doctor with a look. After it was over I came to check on her and she said she was all right. She thought it was cute that “the baby” stuck up for her. She giggled and then went to sleep.

When it was time for her to come home she needed a full-time attendant. We worked with the Social Services director who clearly was having a mental breakdown. We also needed to secure a bed for the attendant.

We did not have the money to pay for the bed because the two of us were out of work and only my father was working. We knew Aunt Gertrude did have the money but we could not take money from her, she had to be asked. We had been able to get her home and the attendant was coming in the next two days. My mother explained to her what we needed the money for, a bed and a TV. We wanted to get her a TV in her room because that seemed to bring her comfort in the hospital. We asked her where she hid the money and she told us. My Aunt was extremely paranoid about her money and I had no idea how my mother was going to accomplish this. The money was in a shoebox and my mother put all of it out in front of her. She then asked permission for her to count it. My Aunt said yes. My mother counted it and told her the amount. She explained we needed this amount for the bed for the attendant and asked permission to take it. My Aunt said yes. My mother moved the amount away and counted what was left and I told my Aunt. She explained we wanted to buy her a new television for her room it will cost this amount. She asked permission to take it. My Aunt said yes. She then told my Aunt how much she had left and asked her what she wanted to do with it. She said she wanted to give it to me. I was shocked and I said no. I explained the money was for her groceries and anything else that she may need. My Aunt said, “You are not going to take it?” I explained to her I couldn’t take it that would be wrong. It was her money. She was shocked people had been taking money from her all of her life.

We were able to obtain the bed in time and the attendant was very nice. My Aunt still was not doing well and she was too frail to go to the doctor. My mother arranged to have a doctor make a house call. I was impressed because doctors don’t make house calls anymore. He said that she was resting comfortably and that she did not need to go to the hospital. Two days later she became much worse. The attendant called and said we had to come right away. My Aunt was in terrible shape. Her breathing had become more labored and she looked frailer, it was frightening. My Aunt did not want to go back to the hospital but I told her it was best we could not take care of her the way she needed.

She was at a better hospital than before and the doctor was very helpful. The pneumonia had progressed quite rapidly. Whenever we came to visit her she was in a deep sleep and really not responsive. On one visit the doctor broached the issues of DNR and a feeding tube. How do you decide not to have someone you love resuscitated? We decided not to have her resuscitated because she was suffering so. We of course agreed to the feeding tube. The doctor called us that night, they had tried to insert the feeding tube but she rejected it. I asked what could we do. They continued to feed her intravenously. She stayed in and out of consciousness for a while.

On one of our visits we had plans afterward. My mother was attending a work event with my father and she had to be on time. I had to meet my boyfriend for an event as well. He was performing at his synagogue we had an hour to travel to the location. This was the time she decided to be alert. She ate a little from some food we had brought. She drank some soda. She told jokes. It was a nice visit. The time had come to leave she did not want us to but we had people counting on us. We would leave and come back three times. We told her we would see her tomorrow. She said she would be gone by tomorrow. She was right the next day she never regained consciousness like that again.

She was in and out of consciousness steadily declining for three weeks. She died in the middle of the night in March. We had made some preparations for her funeral. My mother had bought a wig that resembled her hair when she was young. We went to the funeral home and picked out a casket, a dress and priced the funeral. We then had two days to get everything together.

We were able to obtain a small sum from social security for her burial. The balance of the money was in the bank. We had all of our documentation but they would not help us and refused to let us see a manager. That was a wasted day. The day of the funeral we went to the funeral parlor and explained that we would have the money and wanted to make sure that everything was set. They said it was and we would see the result as soon as the payment was secured. We went to the bank again to try and have some payment made to the funeral parlor. They said my mother needed a non-drivers license. We had 3 picture ID’s and they had never mentioned a non-drivers license until that day. We had to go the DMV, which was around the corner. We explained our situation to the manager he looked at us closely, decided we were telling the truth. Instead of taking 3 hours he gave us an express intake and we were out in 40 minutes. We again tried to receive assistance from the customer representatives but they refused to help us or let us see the manager. We asked them several times for the manager and miraculously the manager had happened to appear out of her office and agreed to see us. It was an hour and half before the wake and we had people coming. We again explained the situation. All we wanted was the money for the funeral parlor we did not care if we did not get the rest of the money. She had gone through something similar with her family and gave us a check for the full amount, which we gave to the funeral parlor. She showed us our Aunt and she looked stunning they had done her up so nicely. I am not one for taking pictures at a funeral but I did want to do it at this one.

We called my father who had been dressed just in case and told him to come down to greet the guests. He had an hour to get there. My mother and I raced home and changed, had a few shots of brandy and got in a cab. We were watching the river go by when my mother realized we were going to 27th Street and not 127th Street. We were two hours late to the wake. Everyone wanted to know where we had been. They said we did a great job and sent her off correctly.

There is no way an incompetent, useless and stupid woman could have handled all of those obstacles. Did I do everything correctly? I tried to do the best I could. At least it was out of an obligation to family and decency toward another human being. I treated her the way I would have wanted to be treated. There was not a thought of taking advantage of her for her money, especially when she really needed us. Most of all she knew we were sincere and she appreciated it to the very end.

I know she looks out for my family and I. I can feel her spirit around me all the time. I can feel her smiling. This makes me more confident in my life because I know someone who loves me is watching over me.

I love you Aunt Gertrude!!!


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