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!