My Aunt Kat died last night at 84. One of the seven Strong Cole Sisters. My mom and aunt Selma are the last surviving sibs of the original ten. I think many of us are prone to embellish or exaggerate many things family...both the good and bad. And we are more prone to do so amidst bereavement. But I must say that these Strong Cole Sisters have been an over the top amazing lot and my Aunt Kat was my favorite.
All of the Cole Sisters loved and tended to each others kids but my Aunt Kat was extra special in that way. She lived such a life-in-full and was funny and pugnacious to the very end. I'm dreading having to tell LFG but then again, it's another opportunity to teach lessons about love, kindness, service to others, importance of family and finally; the inevitability of loss. I am a better man because of the Strong Cole Sisters. And I'm proud that my Aunt Kat knew just how much LFG and I loved her. I wrote the following a few months ago...
"And then there was the issue of my Aunt Kat. She’s the next oldest and till recently, the healthiest. I’ve loved all of my aunts but she’s always been my favorite. She’s a damn titanium magnolia if there ever was one. But in early April she ended up with hospital acquired pneumonia and on a respirator. This is a slippery slope for old folks. Hip fractures and pneumonia are the grim reapers geriatric dispatch tactics. That’s my Aunt Kat on the left, then my mom and aunt Selma. Yes, my Aunt Kat gets her “A” capitalized. Shut up.
Folks, there’s no mawkish or maudlin intent here. This is a script…one that each of us with aging family members inevitably has to read and then usually…perform a part in the immutable production. And to that end, when they took my Aunt Kat off the vent and sent her to hospice, my brother and I were looking at our schedules and speculating about getting back home in time to be pallbearers. No tears…just gratitude for having loved ones who've lived this long. The hospice folks had already started humane doses of morphine to comfort my Aunt Kat in her exit. And like my buddy R.E.B. who I said goodbye to a little over a year ago, I’d have gone to say goodbye to Kat in person but she was no longer coherent.
And then...she gradually became lucid. And then…she started asking for people and food and other comfort oriented things. Three days later she’s as lucid as ever and Hospice, of course, kicked her out and she ended up in a long term care facility. So you know now why I had to get home. I’d have never forgiven myself if I hadn't made it home to visit with my Aunt Kat. She’s recovering splendidly and will be out of long term care in another week.
I stayed with my Aunt Kat most of the first day I was home…with my mom’s blessing. I knew she was going to be ok because she was gossiping her ass off. Filling me in on who else was in the long term care center and regaling me with stories about what these people had done over the years…scandalous and sublime. Stuff like… “You know that Tootie Mae Johnson is over in room 36…your daddy used to date her before he married your mama. Go peek in there and see what you’d a looked like if he’d married that old hussy”. Yep, my Aunt Kat was gonna be ok.
On a respirator and Hospice bound one week and tending to me two weeks later. Kat was moisturizing her lips with a little tube of petroleum jelly when she spotted my dry elbows. “Give me those elbows”…and she proceeds to tune me up with a dab of her lip balm. The same maternal, service to others predisposition that all my mother’s sisters demonstrated to everyone.
LFG and I will see my mom and Aunt Kat next month and Kat will probably, after giving LFG a few jars of homemade jam, find one of us to daub some moisturizer on or reach over and straighten a collar or wipe a mouth. So I dedicate most of today’s Mother’s Day gratitude to my Aunt Kat. “Give me those elbows”…"