We spent last night with Aunt Mary and her family. Mary, you see, was dying. She had stage 4 breast cancer. The chemo had wrecked her immune system, and she got an infection. She walked into the hospital in the morning. At 11:20 PM, she was gone.
My cousins and their girls and husbands were all there. My sister was there. Sharon, Andy and Jessamy were there. We all had time to say goodbye and tell Mary that we loved her. She could tell we were there, but with a ventilator and sedation she, for once, had nothing to say.
When I got there her pastor was giving her communion. She had on her mother's cross. It was clear that she was in her very last day. Her color was pale, but OK. In a couple of more hours, she was getting mottled blue in her legs. Things happened pretty fast after that.
Once it was clear that Mary was falling very fast, even on a 100% oxygen ventilator and maxed out on four blood pressure support drugs, we met with the doctors and made the very hard decision to let her go on her own time. From the time they took her off the ventilator until she died was less than five minutes.
Mary meant a lot to me. She was my dad's little sister and her daughters and we three kids were very close when we were young - even when they moved back east. Their home was a very memorable getaway week for me when I had just hit my peak of rebellion as a teen. Mary was so much cooler than my parents (or so it seemed at the time). I adored my cousins, first because they were beautiful and ultimately because they accepted me like no one else had before. I remember the week as if it were just a few months ago - even though at least 30 years have gone by. I can still see and smell the house.
Mary remembered all the family stories, many of which went with her. Mary always laughed a lot, and in a moment would tell you precisely what was wrong. Mary gave me a perspective on what was important, and more often than not her insight illuminated something that I hadn't thought of.
I'll miss Mary for a long time to come.
PS - go get a mammogram if it's time. If you find a lump - don't wait to go see the doctor, especially if you are 70 or more and smoked for decades. Seriously.