My last living great-aunt went into a nursing home last weekend. She suffers from Alzheimer's, and my mother has been checking in on her several times a week for a few years now. Mom got power of attorney over Aunt Mary's finances when it became clear that Mom's cousin (Aunt Mary's sister's son) was exploiting her for money, brazenly and frequently. I firmly hope there is a special hell for unemployed, alcoholic grown men who purposely extort money from little old ladies living on tiny pensions and Social Security checks.
Mary's mind sort of comes and goes these days, but she was getting along fine for the most part. Mom and Dad would pick up her groceries once a week, and Mom took her to appointments and made sure she got her medicine and that her bills were paid. But late last week, Mary fell and couldn't get up, and so she sat on her floor and waited. It's hard to say how long she was there, but luckily she wasn't injured. After a night in the hospital, the doctors told my mom and her sister that they would only release Mary if she was moving into a nursing home or if she was going to have 24-hour in-home care. No one in the family is well-off, and everyone works, so 24-hour care was pretty much out of the question. Luckily, there was space for Mary at what is supposed to be a very good home for Alzheimer's patients, and she was able to move in right away.
My mother's family is not a particularly tight-knit family. Everyone cares for each other, but we don't regularly hang out or share our deep, dark secrets or anything. Of the three great-aunts, sisters of the grandfather who died before I was born, Mary was the only one I really knew at all. When we were kids, she occasionally babysat us while my parents went out. She's in her eighties now, so even when I was a child, she was old to my eyes. She's always been the little old aunt in the little old lady skirts and cardigans. She always had curly gray old lady hair and old lady glasses. She always lived alone in a little house and had too many cats.
She used to make me roll my eyes when she babysat for us, because she never wanted to make any of the kids behave. If one of the younger kids broke the rules and I sent them into a time-out, all they had to do was cry and Mary would feel bad and let them out early. She was nice, possibly to a fault. Mary and I were never close, and probably the only thing I can tell you for certain about her is that she was kind. She was stubborn and set in her ways, I'm sure, but ultimately she was a good person. I feel a little regretful that there's not more to say. Then again, if at the sunset of my life the only thing someone can say about me is that I was kind, I think that wouldn't be so bad.