Just like the Spanish Inquisition

Reading obituaries, i’ve been vexed by statements such as “…died unexpectedly at the age of 84”.  Can you really die unexpectedly at that age?

Turns out, i now believe you can.

My cousin, S, lives an hour away.  Her husband, R, had been battling some fairly serious heart ailments for the past few years, but was recently diagnosed with cancer and had just begun a regimen of chemotherapy.  Due to his poor health, he had been admitted to a skilled nursing facility to allow 24 hour medical care.

This morning i got an e-mail from S: “R just passed away.”  i had recently offered to do some “hospital duty” – sitting with R so that S could run errands, sleep, or do whatever she needed to do – and she’d said she’d take me up on it.

i gave her a call as soon as i got her e-mail this morning, and was on the road within about 15 minutes. 

Not really knowing what she needed, i figured i’d wing it.  When i arrived?  She asked if i could go to the nursing home, and collect his belongings.  She also wanted some support on the visit to the funeral home later in the afternoon to make arrangements.

S is my closest cousin, although we’ve not really been all that well-connected until recently.  She was always a trail blazer in my mind – going off to university to become a chemist in the 1960’s.  She had a solid career working in steel mills, later transitioning to software and other jobs.  When i was a kid?  She was a bit of a role model.  Single Lady Scientist in the Big City*.

She met R at the steel mill.  Twenty years older than S, they were together for about 25 years, married only for the last ten or so…  No children together, R had four sons with his first wife.  They have always been fairly active – with travel, bicycling, dog walking and family visits – right up until R encountered his latest round of medical fun.

About 18 months ago, S and i took lead in orchestrating a large “cousins reunion” in southern Kentucky.  Logistically it was a success, but i was reminded that it’s not just our branch of Mom’s family tree that has issues.  S is the eldest child of my Aunt Helen – a bitter, black hole of emotional darkness

S is a strong woman.  As a battle percolates amongst her siblings regarding the long-term care arrangements for Aunt Helen – who just suffered a heart attack, and now needs a permanent room in a nursing home – S now buries her husband.  Listening to her today, i was blown away by her composure.  But there were moments of non-linearity which is to be expected…

Sitting in the funeral home, waiting for the funeral director to return from gathering some additional bit of information, S sat in an overstuffed chair in his office, looking a little lost.  She said “I knew it would be soon.  I just didn’t expect it today.”


* When i was 12?  St. Louis was a big city!

35 thoughts on “Just like the Spanish Inquisition

  1. That woman sounds like a gem and her husband can be happy he’s in good hands even in the uh, afterlife or whatever comes next, i guess we all know it’s coming we just hope it’s always a day away, shit did ijust quote Annie? Throw a good wake, preferably at a bar, that’s all anyone can ask for now innit?

    • later in the afternoon she said, “better that he went in his sleep than one of those long, drawn out ‘death watches’ when he’s on life support…” Smart woman…

  2. but that Spanish Inquisition is bound for us all. just a matter of how much torture will be involved.

    S sounds like she’s got a good head on her shoulders and will make her way through this just fine… especially with cousins like you to support her.

    • there’s another high-functioning cousin in the wings… will have to write more about that later. i have just noticed that there’s one of us in each ‘clan’… funny how that happens…

    • no sainthood. i really like her. she was dealing with some ugly shit. i wanted to help. and yeah, when you’re in a nursing home for any reason, the odds go way up…

  3. Like your cousin, I expect The King (chain-smoker) will die long before me. But I would still wake each morning at the end thinking “not today, not today.” Your cousin has been through it – I’m glad she had you to help her.

    • yeah. another reason why i’m not really going out of my way to pair up with a ‘one and only’… i completely lose my shit when a dog dies. i’m not sure how i’d manage if i lost a partner…

      • at the same time, life lived in a bunker isn’t always much of a life. i’ll take on a little danger… but i understand that fear every single time my kids get in a car, get on a plane, or in he case of The Boy, hang out with friends…

  4. You’re a really nice cousin. I’m a nice friend, but a crappy cousin. You were so nice to be there for her. It’s really hard and lonely to deal with the death of a loved one. Been there and hated it. I really felt better with the support of my friends and family. What you did really meant a lot.

    • odd thing? we’ve never been close – better connected over the past few years due to facebook and a few visits. but some of this is me projecting ahead to my future as a single 60-something woman. there are going to be shitty things facing me, and i will face them solo. maybe i was just paying it forward a bit, too…

  5. I’m sorry for your loss and your cousin’s loss.

    I have never understood the reason people read the obits. Well, other than burglars, I don’t know why someone would read the obits.
    I would think that if you know the person and that you’re life is affected by the person, then you’d probably know about the passing before it gets posted in the paper.
    By reading the obits, it just seems like boasting. “Yup, outlived this guy. Outlived that woman.”

    • i’ve been living in this city for 30 years, and along the way have met – and later lost contact – with dozens of people. a quick glance through the obits may give me insight as to why so-and-so didn’t show up at the christmas party, or missed the summer pigroast… not boasting. just situational awareness…

  6. Technically, death should never be unexpected b/c we weren’t built very well. But humans are such polly-anna’s and live in total denial that this whole thing can only really end one way.

    The first days and weeks are actually quite calm, as I remember it. There is a lot to do and people around. It’s later, when the fuss is over and the house is empty and the phone stops ringing that all the composure in the world is pretty useless.

    Good for you though to charge in on the white horse and stay. So many people wouldn’t/don’t.

    I am sorry for your loss and for hers.

    • thanks for the insight. S did seem to be a bit numb underneath the composure. she has his son and daughter-in-law staying with her for a couple days to assist, and her neighbors have been very good at coordinating meals (not everyone dumping piles of food at the same time).

      i’m thinking that in about a month, i’ll check in with her to see if she wants to think about going on a weekend trip with me in the spring… she used to love travel, and hasn’t been able to do much for a few years due to R’s health…

    • She’s doing well! Memorial service yesterday, and we’re planning to get together in a few weeks to see what she might need in the months ahead. i’m thinkin’ roadtrip! she loves travel, and hasn’t done much for the past few years due to his health…

  7. The editorial assistants at the newspaper I work for are charged with writing up the obits. They are fond of saying “died suddenly.” This just in: All deaths are sudden. One day you’re alive, and the next not so much.

    Condolences to your cousin …

    • sadly, not all deaths are that sudden… technically? we start dying the day we’re born. but those lingering, drawn out ‘death watch’ things, the ones that go for months? agonizingly forever, it seems…

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