Monday, November 11, 2013
Won't Ever Fall Again
"Don't ever fall and break your neck," my aunt would tell me. No surprise here; she had achieved the dubious accomplishment of doing so, herself—twice—in the last year.
Of course, every time she mentioned it, I would promise her I'd try my best. After all, it wasn't as if she had planned either of her own falls. All she knew was that the experience taxed her normally upbeat temperament to the hilt. If she could spare anyone else that struggle, she was happy to help.
Falls: things like that happen unexpectedly. And they had been happening to her a lot. One fall, though, was worse than all the rest and told us things would be very different from that point forward.
It was the night before Christmas Eve. My aunt—a professional person who never married, never had children of her own—had made plans to spend Christmas with a former colleague. They had had an enjoyable day together in town and had returned to her house to pick up luggage and her beloved dog on their way out of town. In the flurry of last minute activity, she ran to the door, caught her foot on something in the entryway, fell forward, breaking her knee cap, then slamming her head into the wall as she went down.
It all happened so fast. When all the joyous holiday activity came to that abrupt stop, everyone in the room was aware that something serious had just occurred.
Then began the long process of removing her carefully to the emergency room, and the long vigil, through the holidays, through surgery, through recovery, through rehab therapy.
And then, finally, home.
My aunt loved her home. She loved being there with her pet. She loved her morning jogs, her multiple daily walks through the neighborhood, meeting and greeting a wide variety of neighbors over the several blocks she walked. It meant a lot to her to be able to go back home after an emergency as devastating as that. It meant quite a medical accomplishment for a woman of her age—she was eighty six at the time—to be able to overcome all those challenges.
During that difficult time, my sister and I realized a metamorphosis taking place in our family dynamics. While our aunt had no children of her own, here we were, essentially two people without a mother. Our mom had passed away several years previously, and through the ensuing years, we had focused all our inter-generational efforts on building a new kind of relationship with our aunt. When that accident had befallen her, it was as if it had happened to our own mother.
For a brief time, it seemed like all would resume normalcy and—despite an unwelcomed walker to assist her—life at home would again be the norm.
That dream met an abrupt end within a few short weeks. With one sudden fall, we all faced more than reruns: all the repair work from the first surgery was dislodged and had to be removed. More weeks in a convalescent setting. More hard work at therapy. More discouraging news. It meant a time in which trying one's best was not good enough. Things were not going to get any better.
Extended family from out of state spent more time in Ohio in that one year than we ever imagined could be possible. In my last visit to see my aunt, my husband and I had the luxury of spending all day for nearly two weeks at her side, visiting, talking, encouraging her. She wanted to learn how to use an iPad so she could use FaceTime to talk with family. Her eyes lit up every time she connected with someone for a call and could see—as well as hear—who she was talking to.
One evening, as my husband and I were preparing to say good night to her after the day's visit, we sat in one of the convalescent hospital's comfortable sitting areas. In the twilight, my aunt grew reflective.
"I don't ever want to fall again," she mused, and then paused to amend that thought.
"I don't ever want to fall again—until I fall into the arms of Jesus."
And early last Saturday morning, one week ago, she did.