Friday, August 30, 2013
My Aunt Alice died. She was married to my father's younger brother, Dick Dunn, a scientist and astronomer, well known in his field and in his specialty of sun spots.
Growing up, they were giants to me, and when we would drive from Minnesota to Las Cruces it was like going to the moon in a way. Uncle Dick would take us up to the observatory and he'd show us photos of the sun he was researching. Back at the house, Alice had a room with a harp, and a loom. She made me fudge. She was not a cuddly person, but I always liked her. She had a wit and wrote funny notes at Christmas.
She was 86 and in seemingly good health. I guess she had had some issues a few weeks ago, was in and out of doctors, and they discovered she had kidney failure. She refused dialysis and chose to enter hospice in her local hospital. She died within days. She told her niece she didn't need to go to her house she'd lived in most of her adult life, that she was content and 'felt like the Pope' in her hospice suite. That was so her.
Uncle Dick died some 6 years ago, when he succumbed to the wrath of Parkinson's. He was only about 79. Too young. They were odd and unique in all the most wonderful ways. Smart, witty, and curious about life. She played cello and harp. She read. She learned braille and Dick then got involved and developed an automated braille translator.
She made really good fudge.
Uncle Dick was always building things - televisions and Monopoly like banks that played music when coins were inserted, and he taught himself to play the Hurdy Gurdy. In their later years, he and Alice would go to the farmer's market and he'd play the Hurdy Gurdy for coins. It was so funny.
While they each had interests of their own, I think of them as "Dick and Alice". And when Dick died, it was sad, for her, and everyone that knew them as an entity of their own.
After my mother died in April, I was the one to call Alice and tell her the news. I was surprised at how emotional she got in the first moments of hearing the news. Alice was a lot like my mom in that regard, stoic, stable, not one for drama. We had a really good talk that day, about death, independence and life. She said somethings that have stuck with me.
"There are worse things than death," she said.
And she told me that some of her relatives brought up her finding a more suitable home with assistance if needed - but she had no intention of it. She was always independent and she said that "once that independence is taken, it's like a death in and of itself. You can't understand that until you reach a certain age."
I concurred, and I whole heartily believe both these things to be true. She watched her brilliant husband suffer for years with Parkinson's eventually losing a leg and ability to speak. Death was a relief for both of them, but it left such a gap. She missed him, I know that. While she didn't complain, I know it was different. I choose to believe that those last hours for her were a relief for her, knowing she wouldn't have to live in a world anymore with that gaping hole that her best friend and husband left when he died. She went really fast. She was ready.
When I called her that day to tell her about my mother dying, I think the initial gasp and tears were perhaps because it was one more window closing, one more anchor in her life gone. The life she knew had one less soul in it that understood her history and had connections to her and Dick's life.
I had talked to her several times these past months, and she was helping me figure out some family photos I had acquired from my mom's, even hooking me up by letter with a 95 year old that knew my grandmother. All week I kept saying I was going to call her because I had a specific relative I wanted to know more about. Each day, I'd think it, "Have to call Alice." She had already died on Sunday, so maybe that was her letting me know.
When I found out yesterday she died, I emailed my only brother right away. He couldn't get a hold of me, so called Martyn on the cell phone. It was late day and Martyn was driving back to the farm, and as he drove up the driveway and got out of the car, I was sitting on the porch.
"There's a double rainbow over the field, it must be Dick and Alice," he said.
And once again, I am confronted with this fact - death is just another form of life.