By: Cindy Hasz, Geriatric Care Manager
I don’t usually drink gin, but along with a lot of other people I tossed one back in her honor. No doubt she would’ve had several too, but our “Auntie Mame” had gone and left us bereaved of her winsome presence. So we dove into the gin for want of a good séance.
We gathered at her beloved country club after the memorial service in the small Episcopal Church in the pines. The priest was there, golf buddies, family members and business associates of diverse kinds. The table was filled with what she called “hearty hors d’oeuvres”; shrimp, deviled eggs, rumiaki, cheese, little salamis twisted cleverly in some back room by unseen fingers into tiny sombreros.
Sombreros, like the black and white sombrero she wore in my favorite picture of her; eyes bright like sunrise, mouth wide laughing, hands poised at the hat strings like leaves only partly uncurled to the light. Her fingers appeared shy and hesitant, lightly touching at the string below the knot under her chin. She’d been neither shy nor hesitant but she’d been reserved.
She had reservations about church ladies and today the church ladies were milling around. The same ones she kept from visiting her in her illness. She said they were always trying to “swoop down on her.” Once they got inside the house they gathered in her room and tended to hover over her bed. She hated few things more than hovering. Here they were out in force, swooping around the food table and in full hover mode for the sad celebration.
While coaxing a shrimp onto my plate an elderly gentleman in front of me dropped a deviled egg onto the carpet. It shot off the tray and spread its yellow devils all down the paper tablecloth before it hit the ground. I made little soothing comments meant to rescue him from embarrassment as he silently dabbed at the mustard putty like mixture, but he was having none of it. Not even a glance in my direction. Oh yes, I thought to myself, the stoicism and fortitude of the greatest generation. How silly of me to think he’d acknowledge defeat at the hands of an egg.
The place was buzzing with friends and family who’d emerged from obscurity for the party to bid her farewell. I could not help wondering where they had all been during the last six months of her life. Only her nephew and his wife and one friend made pilgrimage on a regular basis to see her. I think the rest of them just showed up for libations, victuals and of course, to do the expected homage to propriety as they got in line for their portion of her large estate.
Having been to many death rituals over the years, it always strikes me how many friends one has once one is dead. How much everyone seems to care once you’re gone; the flowers, the cameo appearances… Like they just parachuted in doing dry runs for their own funerals. I lifted another glass of gin to my friend whose presence I felt keenly, whispering her dry comments about everything transpiring in her name.
Unlike all this, we’d been through some serious stuff together; Leukemia, kidney failure. She had done it with great dignity and humor. We kept her comfortable, at home. She was not one who would’ve tolerated a nursing home well. All the patronization. All the swoop and hover.
I kept thinking how much she would’ve enjoyed her party. Why couldn’t they have done this when she was alive? Why couldn’t have all these people sent her flowers when she could enjoy them? Why didn’t they send her cards or bring over chicken soup, a good joke or a drink? True, she had “No Trespassing” signs out to many but anyone who halfway knew her could read the fine print, “Please come in.”
She only wanted to give an excuse to those who secretly wanted one anyway.
Touching on this with a friend of mine later, he said an aunt of his held her own wake before she died and told everyone just what she thought of them as well as giving thorough instructions for her funeral. A grand idea and one I fully intend to emulate it if I am in any condition to do so.
I remembered the saying “A friend is someone who comes in when the whole world goes out.” Her real friends were those who’d been with her in the days and nights before she died. A single member of her golf sisterhood brave enough to trespass, two young women from the Philippines, an African American women, myself and a faithful nephew whom she taught to drink extra dry martinis.
We were the lucky ones.