Aunt Dorothy’s Last Wish
“She’s dying,” says my Aunt Dorothy’s doctor over the phone.
She had a stroke two years before, leaving her partially paralyzed, incontinent, her speech garbled, but her mind sharp. She’s blind, has emphysema, and is fed through a tube. Before my her stroke, we have long phone conversations. We talk about our passions – dogs, food, current events. Both life-long Democrats, I’m shocked when she tells me she’s going to President Nixon’s funeral.
“Traitor!” I yell.
I hear her smoker’s laugh. “Hell, I just want to spit in his casket.”
Later she reports the line was too long; she never made spitting range. So she stole his flowers instead. I smile when I think of this skinny little old lady, cigarette dangling from her fingers, sprinting to grab a bouquet and run.
At the hospital, I don a plastic gown, gloves and mask. She’s so bloated she doesn’t look like herself anymore.
“Aunt Dorothy, it’s me. Lizabeth.”
She opens her eyes and smiles. I’m surprised.
“Remember Nixon’s funeral?”
Her smoker’s laugh starts her coughing.
“I want to die,” she whispers.
I want to pull the tubes out of her body.
I take a deep breath.
“You’ll see a bright light. Know who’ll be there?” I ask.
“Ma will be there! And Al, Mary and Ann.”
“George and Charlie will lick you and wag their tails.”
Her smile broadens.
While she sleeps, I pray for her death.
Her beautiful brown eyes pop open. “Get me food.”
“You can’t eat,” I say.
“I’m hungry,” she pleads.
I remember a long ago conversation we had. How her sister Mary closed the hospital door when her husband was dying from cancer. Uncle Elmer had diabetes; the nurses wouldn’t allow him sugar or his beloved cigars. He only had days left to live. Aunt Mary closed the door, slipped out homemade fudge and a cigar from her purse. While he smoked and ate, she kept watch. If a nurse approached, out the cigar would go. She’d bat the air with her hand and hide the fudge.
I told Aunt Dorothy I always admired Aunt Mary for this. Uncle Elmer was dying. Why not give him his last wish?
She remembers this.
This is her last wish.
As sick as she is, she’d like a final taste of food.
The last time they gave her something – someone didn’t mark her chart – she was so sick, she nearly died.
I tell her this.
She is quiet, thinking this over.
I think it over too.
If it wouldn’t make her so terribly sick, it wouldn’t be such a bad idea.
But she doesn’t ask me again.
Now I wonder. Is she not asking me because it’s too much to ask?
Or because she wants to live, after all?
“I love you,” she says.
“I love you,” I tell her.
But I don’t really know my Aunt Dorothy’s feelings about the matter.
I don’t even know mine.
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