More “Goodbyes”…

My Bear did not elect to stay. It has been nearly a month since I had to make “that” decision and I’m still numb inside, as though some part of me has frozen itself against the pain. Looking back, I realize that something or Someone nearly pushed me through those last days with Bear. I slept on the floor with him for part of his last night at home. I remember how he kept leaning over and gently licking my nose. Did he know? Did he understand? His bone tumor grew to an astronomical size the last few weeks of his life. Then the day I made “that” decision, it was his back legs giving out–and him crashing into the pail of sand and salt that we keep for the walkways when they’re icy–that cemented it. I knew it was only a matter of time before he crashed into something else and this time fractured that leg–like Hooch. I knew, too, that like Roxy, if he went down, I would not be able to lift him and, knowing how much pain Hooch was in when his leg fractured from the bone tumor, that I could not, would not, leave my Pooh Bears to suffer like that.
The next morning he was so excited to go “bye-bye” with Mama in the car. I actually questioned “that” decision until we got outside to the car and he just stared at the backseat. He couldn’t hop in like usual and I had to help him get in. We drove around a bit. I was loathe to take him and, paradoxically, loathe to drag it out, too. There just never seems to be enough time. And I saw the look on his face when we pulled into the parking lot at Quinebaug Valley Veterinary Hospital.
He knew. His face fell. And he just looked so sad and weary. I tried to tell him that there was nothing I could do to make his leg better but there will always be some guilt anyway, some odd sense of betrayal perceived that I ended his life. I know it was to prevent his suffering. I know in my heart that it was an act of love. I only hope and pray that he knew that, too, and that, if I had my way about it, my will, he would have stayed with me forever–he and Roxy, both. There’s never enough time for those you love. Each and every day is precious. 1000 years would still be “not enough time”.
The same is true for humans. In addition to Bear, I lost my Aunt Marjorie last Saturday night. Mom and I had visited her at Kent County Hospital the week before. They had found a growth on her pancreas. Of course, Aunt Sandy was consulted and she asked that they not prolong Aunt Marjorie’s life but only make her as comfortable as they could for whatever time she had left. They gave her 2-3 weeks. She barely made it another week. Again, a decision made out of love and the desire to spare someone needless suffering. But this loss runs deep, deep in a different way than Bear or Roxy, or maybe even other people.
Aunt Margie was my father’s eldest sister. She was a lot like Dustin Hoffman’s character in “Rainman,” a savant. Where “Rainman” was gifted with counting cards, Aunt Margie was gifted in drawing and languages. She could speak a number of them quite fluently: French, German, Italian, Latin and, I believe, Russian in addition to English. And yet, growing up, my father and his other sisters had the stigma of being those kids down the street with the “crazy” sister. And I grew up hearing her described as “retarded”. I’m not sure where the labels come from or why we feel the need to always make them but Aunt Margie was definitely not “crazy”. She was more sane than most “normal” people. And my first husband said it best once when I told him she could speak so many languages, “Then how is she retarded?” How, indeed? Like Rainman, life with Aunt Margie was often challenging, too. Rainman had to watch Judge Wopner every day at 4 pm. Aunt Margie had her own “routines”. She couldn’t order, or even look at a menu for that matter, until she had ordered and received her cup of black coffee and cup of ice cubes. Once she had them, she would peruse the menu. She was ready to order about the same time as she was ready for her second cups of coffee and ice cubes. She would suck on an ice cube while sipping the hot coffee. My only guess is the different sensations this must have created for her. I always came away from a visit feeling a little wiped out and stressed but also happy and wishing my own life could be as simple–and I don’t mean that in a derogatory manner. It’s simply that Auntie Margie was still capable of delighting in things that most adults forget about once they pass beyond childhood. Oh, they may re-visit some of that wonder when their own children start to grow and learn about the world around them but that’s all. For Aunt Margie, she never lost that wonder. The butterfly sitting gently on a flower, wings flexing under a bright, golden sun was reason enough to pause and exclaim that wonder. Touching, too, was her reactions whenever she looked at family photos. I can still hear her almost breathless exclamation, “Oh, it’s Grandma and Grandpa Dean!” when she viewed a photograph of her maternal grandparents taken back in the 1930’s. Though both were long gone, they were certainly not forgotten and, obviously, the source of many happy memories.
I had to clean out her room at the group home on Friday. It was truly a walk down memory lane for me and filled with plenty of wonder as well. She kept an old Viewmaster. It still works and there are at least 50 reels for it. As I started looking through all of them, at first I wasn’t much surprised. There were many Biblical stories depicted and also, many old silver screen stars such as Loretta Young, Robert Wagner, and Jimmy Durante. But then I came to “Sigmund the Sea Monster” and a few others that I knew had not been her generation (Auntie Margie would have been 84 this October 7th) but my own. I had loved Viewmasters as a child and had had quite a collection. It dawned on me that she had also kept and saved mine. The Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm reel proved it. I was always a big “Flintstones” fan. Words cannot describe all of the emotions I felt seeing them, renewing the wonder of my own childhood, and the happy, secure memories these reels brought back to me. All of a sudden, I could clearly see Nanny and Poppop’s house (my names for my grandparents) in Greenwood. I remembered Saturday evenings chasing Auntie Margie around the first floor, which went in a circle, and playing tag with her. Anytime I tagged her, she would shriek aloud (most definitely because my 4, 5, 6 year-old self could not reach any higher than to goose her when I tagged her…LOL!). My poor grandmother probably never got to really enjoy her programs on those evenings. Aunt Margie and I loved to slide down the stairs together, too. Not having ever known the love of my father–though he lived in the same house with Auntie Margie and my grandparents, he was always a distant figure–I realized that Aunt Margie was the last living link with that part of my childhood. Yes, Auntie Sandy is still in Arizona but she always lived in another state so she was as she is today–beloved, yes, but it was normal to only see her maybe once a year when she visited. She, and Uncle George, have always been a vital part of my life and her visits have always been happy occasions but, most of my memories of 22 Greenwood Ave. are of Poppop, Nanny, my father (again, albeit a distant figure), sometimes my mother when she came for dinner, and Auntie Margie and I sitting around the dinner table together. To have lost that last link, well, I’ve lost a beloved aunt, a best friend, I’ve even lost a part of myself. My dream home is and always will be 22 Greenwood Ave. No, I would never build its twin were I to hit the lottery and be able to build my dream home, but it is the dream I carry around in my heart, just as I carry the love for my Aunt Margie, my grandparents, Aunt Sandy, Mom, and even my father in my heart.
Both Bear and Aunt Margie were cremated. Necessity was the reason for this decision for both of them. Bear because it is winter, the ground is frozen, and Natalie and I barely managed Roxy’s weight last June. That hole was big enough to have buried the refrigerator in; I doubted I could dig one large enough for Bear–though, if I had to do it again, I think I would try anyway. His ashes came back last week; it bothers me greatly to think that is all that is left, physically, of my beautiful boy. Aunt Margie’s was expense. Though Poppop liquidated his assets and put them into a trust for Auntie Margie’s care, and it did keep her going for almost 40 years, when she turned 65 much of it was lost to the State of RI and there was very little left for a proper burial. All I can think of is how horrified she would’ve been to be cremated. That would’ve freaked her out and yet, it is the best Aunt Sandy and I could do, neither of us having the means to do more. Her ashes will be buried in Swan Point Cemetery behind Nanny and Poppop’s graves. I will be performing my first official act as “minister” by saying the eulogy at a graveside service once she is buried. I hope, too, to eventually have a headstone erected for her. I want passersby to see the name, Marjorie A. Burbank, and to know that someone with that name existed, someone very special and precious that everyone who knew her was made the richer for that knowing. Of course, no one will ever guess how much she loved dogs or cream-filled chocolates. They won’t be able to sit and look at her baby picture and hear her ask, “Wasn’t I darling?”. And, should they ask her to help with the dishes, their ears might actually be grateful not to hear the uproar this request might cause, spoiling a “perfectly good day” and how it was “too much like work”.
I love you, Aunt Margie & Bear, too! God bless you & keep you!