Wednesday night my husband became the oldest living marf in our family. His Aunt Bev passed away after a stint in hospice and a long battle with progressive heart failure, among so many other medical issues. She was one of the most amazing women I have ever known, and we are still reeling from what seems like a sudden loss.
We got the news that she had taken a turn for the worse and was being placed into hospice care (meaning she was dying) a few days into a spring break vacation to a friend's wedding in Florida, and after many tears and a long conversation, Giraffedaddy and I made the call to finish our trip as planned. We knew it was what Bev would tell us to do. She rejoiced over things like our family getting a rare fun trip, and we had no doubt she'd tell us to have fun and not worry. Easier said then done, but we continued on with the planned trip. We arrived back home wednesday afternoon and went straight to the nursing home to see her. Over our hour and a half visit we hugged her, shared about our trip, told her we loved her many times and how special she was to us all. We said all the things we needed to say, the things we wanted her to know, and we relished in her smile and hearing her tell us she loved us too. It was a good visit all things considered. She was barely able to talk, couldn't make solid eye contact, and was clearly tired and sometimes disoriented, but she was smiling, grateful to those caring for her, and happy to see us. In the hallway outside her room we did our best to explain to giraffeboy and giraffegirl that this was the last time they would likely see her, and then we went home. I got the call from Giraffedaddy that she was gone as I walked our kids into school on Thursday morning. As I stood outside the school crying I had no doubt she waited for us before she went on to heaven to see her best friend and brother Don. I can't begin to describe how grateful I am for that time.
Bev was my husband's aunt, but she was so much more than that. She was my Aunt too, from the moment I came into the family. I've lost count of the number of chats we have had, the number of giggles we've shared. I can recall her gigantic smile and her tear filled eyes the day we told her we had gotten engaged, her joy on my wedding day, and her excitement when we found out we were expecting our first child. I can also recall sitting in the room with her praying and crying as we watched her best friend and my father -in-law take his final breaths while I was four months into my pregnancy. It was she that assured us later that Don would be mortified if we named our son after him, and to ignore the family pressure to do so. She also assured us that our baby would know his Grandpa through her stories, and easily agreed she would be our babies' Grandma. It was a role that she relished, a role that she excelled in, and my children are incredibly blessed to have had her for as long as they did.
I can still close my eyes and picture her holding Giraffeboy as a newborn in the hospital, her arthritic hands a work of art balanced around his tiny head, her face lit up in the biggest smile ever. I can recall the many visits when she would play with him and make him giggle, tickling his chin, grabbing his nose, and as he got older showing him the fish in the pond outside her apartment door or reading him a story. And when Giraffegirl came along she just opened her heart up wider. She cried with me as we stood over her basin in the NICU, cried again with me at the prospect of these babies ever having heart surgery the day after Giraffedaddy's aorta surgery. She loved those kids like they were her own, and she relished every moment we spent visiting her.
We took her to doctors appointments over the years, and I sat by and kept her company through many days in the hospital or waiting room over the years. I have seen her in immense pain, in discomfort, be poked and prodded by inconsiderate medical staff in a way I would almost call cruel. But I have also always seen her give a smile through the worst of it, say thank you EVERY TIME to the medical staff that took care of her, and praise God despite what she was dealing with. I have never seen her feel sorry for herself or heard her wish for different circumstances. She could not have been described as graceful but she was definitely full of grace. She had a unwavering faith, and it was sitting next to her at a Christmas Eve Service cradling my 6 month old son that I started truly seeking a relationship with him. Although her faith was incredibly strong, I never felt her push us, never felt her judge me, never saw her say a harsh word about anyone. I saw her cry the day we told her Giraffedaddy had accepted Jesus, but I knew they were tears of joy. She cried the day I told her too.
I went to her often wondering about the best treatment for the kids, questions about family history, frustrations with family members, questions about faith, and with each new question she answered honestly and as well as she could. She encouraged me to keep seeking, to get involved in our local Marfan group, to turn a blind eye to those that wouldn't treat me well, and to savor every day at home with my babies even when I was overwhelmed. She encouraged me to be the best person I could be, to do what is right, and to trust God.
Even as she was leaving this world I watched her that final day as she gave her nurse a huge smile and told her thank you. She strained for every word, but it was that important for her to say it. We could all learn a lot about how to treat our fellow man from her example. Her gifts to us will continue even after she has gone. Her last act of selflessness will come next week, when after the wake they will take her body to the University of Minnesota Medical School, where they will be able to study it. It was her hope that they will learn things from studying her body that can help other marfs, and others who suffer from similar conditions. I can't begin to describe how proud I am of her for that gift.
It will take awhile before the grief will gently fade and be replaced with only happy memories. You don't lose someone so important to you and have it not affect you. But there is joy for her in our pain. Joy that she no longer suffers, joy that she has been reunited with her brother in heaven, and joy she is hanging with Jesus. I have no doubt her and Don are up there giggling and talking away, and that she is giving him an earful about his grand babies and kids and everything else that has gone on since he died. Picturing this makes it a little easier. Heaven is a bit brighter tonight from the light of her radiant smile. I am grateful to have had the chance to bask in that smile for as long as I did.