On our last evening in Venice, I learned that my beloved Aunt Phyllis passed away.
My mom’s oldest sibling, Phyllis was always a woman of heroic proportion to me. She hosted family holiday gatherings throughout my childhood in Alaska, bought me books to encourage and inspire, took me shopping for clothes as a teenager, and accompanied me on my first visit to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. She wrote, and encouraged me to write as well. We had the same favorite college English professor–when she was in her early forties and I in my early twenties.
By 2005, when her only daughter died, she was showing signs of mental lapse. In 2007, her only son was terminally ill, and her need for help was clear to everyone but her. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. I helped her move near me, and petitioned the court for guardianship. In those first years, I took her out to coffee, shopping at WalMart, and to the casino to spend $10 in a slot machine every few weeks. When she needed a reminder to push the same button every time the machine stopped, we quit going to the casino, and just visited at the assisted living home where she lived. I brought her flowers from my garden, treats to keep in her room, and bought her the toiletries and clothes she needed.
She ran out of money, and about three weeks ago was qualified for help from Medicaid, which started on August 1. During the previous few months she had declined in most of her functions–limited to a wheelchair and talking more nonsense.
So I left on my Italian sojourn hoping that the emergency numbers I left at the care home wouldn’t be needed.
Justin called on August 9 to tell me it looked like the end was near, and again within a couple of hours to say she was gone. My mother was with her, and is taking care of details (most were arranged in advance, years ago) which couldn’t wait for my return.
I am told to continue my vacation, others are taking care of everything. But it is very surreal, being here, and thinking how different things will be when I return. She loved travel, and in recent years told people she had been all over the world, even driven to Africa. So I am continuing on, ready to visit our ancestral village in a couple of days. My outlook is more sober. But I am full of life, part of that a legacy she left me and our family.
So I continue not only sober, but grateful for her part in my life. Tomorrow I will visit the royal palace at Caserta, and think how she would have loved it.