Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Bon Voyage, Aunt Sheilagh

It only seems fitting that one should mark the passing of a special person.

Why I have a penchant for doing so on my blog is something that eludes me, but it feels like it's all part of the job.

At this point in the lives of my family, it's starting to change, and not only are the "old guard" leaving this earth; even one of my own generation passed away last year, only three years older than I, and our mortality looms. I don't have a problem with my own lifetime on this planet having a limit; it's other people that I worry about.

This time, although not unexected and certainly with forewarning, it must be particularly hard on my mother. Sheilagh (that's the Irish spelling; pronounced without the "gh") was my mother's younger sister, and the first of her siblings to go. I suppose she's had some observance of my father's side to get some idea of how it is; all three of the children of my father's generation have been gone for some time. Still, when it's your own family, with whom you grew up, it has to be different. Extra difficult in ways that I don't understand.

The day might have come much earlier, but Sheilagh was one tough fighter. She lost her husband, my uncle, two years ago to a very sudden heart attack. Richard wasn't very old (at least, not by Florida standards, where they routinely renew the drivers licenses of people 96 years old by mail), and he was an ex-Marine in such amazingly good health, save hard times with arthritis, that I thought he'd outlive us all. That was quite the shocker. Within a couple of months, it was discovered that Sheilagh had cancer, and that it had begun to spread. She started the battle back immediately, even though surgery wasn't really an option, but she went through a lot of rounds of chemotherapy. She lost a lot of hair and weight during those battles, but never her dignity. It didn't look good from the beginning, but I think she was determined to hold on for two principal reasons: One, she wanted to settle her husband's estate so that the burden wouldn't fall on anyone else (and thus have two estates to settle at once), but also for the sake of her children, my three cousins. Losing both your parents in short order must be a fairly devastating blow. That happened on my father's side, and those cousins went through a very rough period trying to adjust to reality. Reailty, as I have pointed out many times, sucks cheese.

That was a couple of years ago. She managed to hold on all this time; perhaps a bit longer than, in the end, we would have liked. She was in hospice care at home for longer than any of us anticipated, and the desire for a quiet & merciful ending was building amongst us, enough being enough. However, Donoghue women are tough creatures. My grandmother lived to be 91. Though wheelchair-bound for her last years by arthritis, I remember the last time I saw her in 1986; still full of wit and that smart-aleck attitude that seeems to pervade the entire rest of the family (very grateful for that, I am). I hate to see my mother's generation begin to go for many reasons, not the least of which including the fact that my own mother is among the group. I don't really worry much about her; she's 82 and suffers some of the usual slings and arrows of her age, but carries steadily on. I also have the comfort, living 1,100 miles away, that she's in good hands with my brother, who lives with her, and my youngest sister who lives close by. I think we've got a good fistful of years left with her, for which I'm very grateful, as long as her health remains good. I dislike watching people suffer, as I'm sure most people do. Her brothers (one older, one younger) will probably not make the funeral services. The elder is old and tired enough that the journey from Washington DC to Massachusetts is beyond him. The younger has just been exposed to a nasty strain of pneumonia, and he has a sick wife to attend to as well. I wish I could go myself, but there's the expense (always, there's that nasty little piece of reality poking its nose where it isn't welcome) and the fact that I'm rehearsing a music show, and it would difficult for me and everyone else if I were to be missing for a number of days.

So, I guess this is my way to salute her publicly as she moves on to her reward (one well prepared for and well-earned). She was a lady in every respect; gracious, classy, of her own mind, funny, caring, and terribly friendly and easy to get along with. Seeing her and that part of the family was always a lot of fun. They were good people (as the survivors still are) and good family. Many were the cahoots that we got into with those three counsins, not the least of which was my "twin" cousin, who was born on exactly the same day I was. Those times, I will remember well. Even my parents seemed more lively around my aunt and uncle; they were just the kind of people who drew it out of you. And I'll remember that last visit in 1986, the year we took our daughter on the Great Great-Grandmother Tour. All four of them were still living at the time, and we wanted her to meet them while the meeting was good. My grandmother was living with my aunt and uncle. What a wonderful weekend that was. My only regret was not having had a chance to see them again since then, but geography and life have an irritating habit of getting in the way. I'm sure I would have found them not different in character, and lively as always. My uncle, since his retirement, was always getting into some new hobby, and never lacked for things to enthusiatically talk about. And I do miss my cousins, too. At my youngest sister's wedding several years ago, I didn't get much of a chance to see them and talk because I was the one who wasn't well. I hope they know that my heart is with them at this time and always.

To everything, there is a season.... and it's time to move onto the next in the chapters of our family. So, with some heavy sighs, here we go. I just hope that we carry the best parts forward with us, and I'm grateful to Sheligh, Richard, and the others who gave us so many good experiences to take along with us.