Monday, June 29, 2009

Life Is What You Make It

This is the woman we spent our weekend with... My Aunt Katherine, or Kat, or if you are one of her friends from her country club days, Kitty, or Kits. She was a fabulously well dressed, clothes horse in her hey day. Now? She still likes to look good, still fusses with her hair and worries that she's attractive. But she doesn't worry quite as much as she used to... Time has a way of mellowing even the sharpest of us; dulling the flinty, sparky parts of the personality.

For almost 10 years now, Kat lives in a great continuing care community. She left a home that she absolutely loved because her husband needed care. David, died shortly after. They were married over 50 years. He was not the most pleasant of men. Could be cutting and cruel. Never physically, but emotionally. He was...well he's dead, so I'll leave it at that. But, Katherine always forgave his behavior. For Kat, David hung the moon. That will never change.

She's made a few friends at her community. One of them calls her, Miss Butterfly because she's always flitting about. Slower now, but she still comes and goes, never lighting anywhere for very long. Aunt Kat wanted to show off Rory & Fiona to her friends. She adores those two Scotties of mine- has pictures of them everywhere! Oh, and she wanted them to meet Michael and me too, but truly, it was all about the dogs, who by the way, were wonderful and behaved. This was their first sleep over.

We helped with odd jobs around the apartment that a woman who is 92 and becoming frail would love to take care of for herself but can't. Like flipping the mattress, dusting the lights overhead, re-setting the electric clock so it stops blinking 12:00. Simple things made complicated by the fact that there is no one there to help...but she doesn't complain. Well, perhaps a little.

Kat had an excellent circle of friends and she adored entertaining. I remember, as a little girl, being at her home for over night stays and snuggled in a big bed listening to the laughter and conversation of a cocktail party underway. Falling asleep to the pleasant sounds of people enjoying themselves. Yes, I have an Aunt who used to host the most wonderful cocktail parties. Little foods to pass about. Piano music in the background. Drinks poured out of a shaker into crystal glasses.

In her day, she was a superb cook; had a fabulously decorated home. And, great gardens. She was a member of garden clubs and a ribbon winner for many of her arrangements. I can't look at a daffodil without thinking of Kat...she's won lots of ribbons for her daffies...simply beautiful.

As we held hands on our stroll before leaving, we stopped to admire the tiny Black Eyed Susans growing along the way. They mean Summer to us who grew up in one of the nicest states in the union. I've planted the Maryland state flower here at my home in PA because they remind me of "home." And that makes me happy.

I think I learned to love gardening from Kat, although I couldn't stand it when she'd rope me in to helping her weed. Yuk! It felt a little odd naming the flowers for her... she used to tell me the names. When I say one, she responds, "Oh, that's right, how could I have forgotten?" She asks that with more frequency these days.

Although, at times, she and I still go head to head since she knows where all my buttons are and just how to push them, over time I've come to realize that a great many of the qualities that others like about me, I just may have gotten from this tiny, fussy, woman who makes me generally crazy.

She was so grateful that we came to visit and we actually had a nice time being there. She loves Michael and thinks he's the most thoughtful, pleasant guy. She'd be correct. He's really sweet with her. And, let's face it, no matter how old a gal gets, it's nice to have a guy be sweet with you.

She loves to get a hug or kiss because there are so few anymore. No one around to give you a kiss out of the blue for no other reason than, "Just because!" How can you not share a smooch with someone when you know you can give them that sort of smile?

Here's the thing about Kat, the thing I admire the most is that at 92, she still is curious about life and things around her. She still wants to learn and delights in a small accomplishment. Like, learning how to use chop sticks for the very first time and actually being able to pick something up with them! She's wanted to know how to do it for years and I was able to show her.

I suppose what troubles me is that I'm not there. None of us is there. My cousin Val is in Florida and I'm here. Katherine's the last of the six Dietor children. She's cried at the funerals of every person who has meant "love" to her. Her parents, her siblings, her husband. And, now recently, her two closest friends have passed away. Imagine saying that many farewells...

And, I want to know how that must feel for her, but I don't have the nerve to ask. I want to understand how someone can constantly have everyone they love slip away and leave them behind, but I just don't have the nerve. The truth is, pondering it unsettles me; I don't want consider it as the path for my life. But, I know it is possible.

What I've watched over the years is a remarkable development of incredible courage in a woman who, when she was younger, seemed as though she had no depth of character at all. She who worried and fretted over everything. Fearful of EVERYTHING. Yet, this huge thing? This being alone in a wide world? This sort of sadness, she has shouldered and moves forward with each day. My Aunt was a fabulous friend. Her friends loved her because she totally loved them. Now they are just memories.

When you talk with her about how it feels, she'll say, "There's only one way ... live. You look for something good in the day. You remember how kind God has been to you. You try not to feel sorry for yourself because what good does that do? You just end up feeling worse. You just look for something good and think about that; not the parts that make you sad."

Bravely you walk on through your life each day, not fixating on all that has been lost to you, but looking at what you still have. Because after so many years of living a swell life, you know that there aren't countless days left and not a single one should be wasted. On the really blessed days you have your family and sweet dogs with you. And that gives you something wonderful to think about on days that aren't so good.

I've learned a lot from Katherine. And I'm still learning a lot from her. Thanks for our visit, Kit Wit. I love you. I'm glad we've both lived long enough for me to realize that, despite the rough patches we've had, in the end the love is the only part that matters.

Namaste' Till Next Time,
Holly aka Katherine's Niece


Alison said...

Thank you for sharing that. :-)

sema said...

thank you sharing your relationship with your aunt and the valuable lessons for us-to treasure our memories and value our relationships.Every moment is precious!

Mel said...

What a fascinating woman - she's a living piece of times gone by....

Thank you for sharing her story, and your thoughts on it, so very honestly....

I imagine that your visit meant the world to her....what a wonderful gift.


beth said...

your writing today brought me to tears while I was reading your words...

this should be in the local newspaper for all to see and feel and be shared with hundreds !!

there is no doubt in my mind that the day you and michael spent with your aunt, will be the highlight she shares with others for days to come...a day she will remember more than any other this year and I bet she will be still talking about those chopsticks next month and even using them while she dreams....

the LIVE message behind all of this is amazingly powerful....xoxoxo

Genie Sea said...

Oh Holly!

How absolutely charming and touching and inspiring!

What a beautiful tribute! What an amazing woman, and how tenderly portrayed.

I have a lump in my throat.

Kit Wit is indeed a special woman, and I see who you take after.

Thank you for the teary smile :)

anne h said...

How beautiful and touching. As a nurse, I see this everyday. It will break your heart if you can't change your focus... and follow her "one way" advice.
EVERY DAY IS A GIFT. I end up saying that to my patient's families almost every day.

Ann Marie said...

Great article, Holly, and one that aroused a familiar feeling in me. I was able to get in to Wilmington this weekend to visit my 92-year old aunt as well. We took her out to lunch and came home the better for the visit. She is one of the most open-minded people I know.

Ann Marie

Life With Dogs said...

Brilliant observations Holly. There are lessons everywhere if we are open to getting the message, and you have done a remarkable job of fleshing out an important message for all of us.

I bet this was time well spent, even if you were not excited at the prospect of having your buttons pushed for entirety of the weekend.

cinner said...

Holly,it sounds like a nice visit,,she looked so happy to see you guys. Reminds me of my grandma and aunt whom lived until 93 and 94...they were both so sweet. we have to cherish every day, thankyou for telling us about her. have a great day my friend. take care, cinner

Chester said...

What a touching post. I am learning more and more everyday that I like old folks. Is it because it is so easy to bring a smile to their face or is it because I'm becoming one? All they ask is for us to give up some of our time to be with them and make them feel like they are still a necessary part of this world and that they will be missed once they are gone.
I'm sure your aunt is still smiling and reliving the whole visit with your Rory and Fiona. She probably will think about you and Michael some too!
*I love how you write. Very thought provoking. Problem is finding the time to get here more often. Please accept my apologies. Rory's quick wit on FB tends to get first dibs on my attention.
Chester's Mom ;0=)

Toni said...

I'd love to meet her. I wrote in my journal yesterday, whilst tucked in my blankies with an obnoxious sore throat, that our culture has this way of dismissing the elderly, treating them as children, without viability, credibility, or any authority -- after all their wealth of life experience. Your post here goes along with what I was thinking -- ok, so there's some forgetfulness, perhaps, and frailty ... but that's not reason for condescension, impatience, none of that. My favorite thing to do when I travel is to FIND someone elderly, on a park bench or outside a cafe, and strike up a conversation. No better way to make a friend, learn something about the place, and make a GENUINE connection.

Peaches said...

The old are so rich in life history...wish I would have collected more oral history from my mom.
And...didn't that visit make you feel wonderfully young?

Anonymous said...

Holly Jean and I just parused your blog. The pictures and words were as only you can put together. My cousin and I often recall people and events that we have shared and this was a nice reminder.
Thank you Holly for always being you in all you share and do.
Peace to you,

joyce said...

What a wonderful tribute...I could almost visualize her character "maturing",(although that's not quite the right word....developing, there, that's better), through time. I think it would be terribly sad to be one of the last of your generation left. I bet it would make her really happy is your printed out this blog and sent it to her...unless she's so progressive that she uses the internet and can read it herself!! Which wouldn't surprise me! I have to say, I got chills as I read her story.

Eileen said...

Holly ... I'm going to think of her as Kit-Kat ... she is a treat and you and Michael were very sweet to spend the day with her. I know it meant the world to her ... and now it leaves us all with a wonderful message about life ... so once again, thanks for sharing. Love to you and yours.

Joanna Jenkins said...

Hey Holly, I spend a lot of time with Seniors and at a local assisted living/nursing home. You did everything RIGHT!!!! The dogs were a great idea, seniors are so charmed by pets they instantly mellow out around them. Hugs and kisses-- They can never get enough! And a handsome guy like Michael to pay attention to your Aunt-- priceless. I know you weren't looking forward to the trip, but know your Aunt is still talking about her lovely visit with you! She sounds like quite a lady. BEAUTIFUL post. Thanks for sharing. xo

Jan said...

Dear Holly,

I have to tell you that this was an absolutely BEAUTIFUL post. I read the last two paragraphs through tears.

I could go on and on, telling you all the things I simply LOVED about this post, but thankfully, I won't.

Suffice it to say, that I hope if and when I reach your aunt's age, I have her courage and strength of spirit, and that I also have someone as kind and understanding as you to be my friend.

Cam said...

I am so glad you told her story! I am so humbled by her strength and wisdom!

You know how I feel about living life to the last drop! it's all about the journey, and it should always be wildly!

Love to you and your sweetie pie of an aunt!

Kathleen Krucoff said...

What a wonderful tale to share with us. Thanks!

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