One of the reasons I can’t seem to think straight these days is because I’m still reeling from the death of my Great Aunt V.
My Great Aunt V. was an impressive woman. Raised poor, made her way to UCLA where she graduated top of her class and became a teacher in the Beverly Hills School District. She was beautiful, impeccably dressed and mannered, and a man magnet with looks in the league of Julie Newmar. Definitely “statuesque” Wong Foo!
V. was one of the woman who inspired me to be a teacher. V. and C. (my sister)
I loved my Great Aunt V. but was never extremely close to her until my sister, the executor of Great Aunt V.’s estate asked me to care for V. the last few months of her life.
She was moved from her home in Marina Del Rey, where she had a full service care giver, to a retirement home not far from my house which was known for being clean, active, with kind and knowledgable staff. I liked the place because it was only stinky during assembly line diaper changing hour and they had an old man who played piano medleys every Monday to the entire group.
V. was transferred down by ambulance. They checked her in and she didn’t wake up for three days. They tried to tell me that it was totally normal, for a 98-year-old who just endured a traumatic move to sleep for three days. All I kept thinking was, she’s going to die on my watch and everyone is going to hate me.
For three days I didn’t sleep at all. I would wake up in the middle of the night and wonder if she was alive and still sleeping. I went to her room each day and began to decorate the walls. I bought bright-colored floral decals that looked just like real flowers. I covered the walls in vibrant swirls of color. I climbed up on the chair and continued to swirl the flowers across the ceiling so that when she woke up, she would see a beautiful garden growing on the pale white walls. A mean administrative assistant came in on the second day and told me I didn’t have permission to paper the walls. I was so wound up by this time that I stapled the package that held the decals to the wall by V.’s bed with the directions above the light switch: “Will NOT harm walls. Peel and Stick. Easy to remove.” I wanted to take a picture of me flipping the bird and write FUCK YOU underneath in big black sharpie but I resigned myself to going to the fire station and getting the okay from the fire department that the decals were safe for retirement home use.
By the third full day, I was a nervous wreck. I drove to the hospital after school and walked the long corridor in anticipation of finding V.
Each time I stepped closer to the room I wondered if she would be alive. I reached her door and peeked in. She was wide awake, propped up on pillows and said, “Hi honey, where have you been?” I pulled up a chair, laid my head on her chest and cried for five minutes while she patted my head.