I ponder the meaning of life all the time ... like all the ... all the ... all the time. At any given moment if I am alone with headphones in - you are almost guaranteed the inner dialogue is contemplating consciousness.
What is the is that I am? If energy can never be created or destroyed, and we are all energy beings - doesn't that mean that we can't ever really "die?" Yes, the physical body temple will one day deteriorate past the point of it being able to function - but we are not solely our bodies, we are energy. So what does that mean??
Like very literally, in my brain - I BREAK THIS SHIT DOWN!!!!
Here's what I'm listening to, btw ...
I remember one day when I was about 6 being completely aware that one day I was going to die. Literally, I was only 6. I don't know exactly what set me off - or how ... but I had a mini-little breakdown.
I was in my grandparents bedroom up at their lake house, and I went around and around the bed in circles HYSTERICALLY crying and thinking, but I just got here again (FTR, I am neither here nor there on reincarnation, but I have VIVID and I mean VIVID recollections as a child not thinking, but KNOWING I had done this before), I don't want to go through death again - I can't do it. Totally not kidding either. I can still see the blue bedspread with the little ivory bamboo like things going up it, and the TV in the corner that may or may not have been playing the Facts of Life. Wait, which was the one with Corky? I don't think that was Facts of Life, but whatever ... Corky was on TV.
I didn't tell my grandparents about my mini-little breakdown, and frankly, I have no idea why I was left alone at that age - but I was, dudes, I was SO good at amusing myself. Literally HOURRSSSS spent alone with my imagination as a wee Jen Jen. It was great! Adults adored me. yayyyy for being the good girl.
Tangent, Jen - quit with the tangents!!
So yeah, my summers were spent as a kid hanging out at my grandparent's lake house kicking it with old people. Not like old people like teenagers ... like old old people ... I was 8, they were 80. Here we all are playing cards ...
That's me ... the epic solitaire player, and the only kid at the table in the glasses with the nerdy looking hair cut. Thanks again for that one, mom! It totally beat the mullet you gave me when I was 4. You will never, and I mean NEVER live that one down. Thank GOOODDDD there was no Facebook.
K. moving on ... love you mama! =)
So, I spent my youth around the elderly. I enjoyed their wisdom, and they didn't make fun of me for using big words like the kids my own age did. DUDES! I might as well have been studying for the SATs from the womb with the kinda language that came outta that little mouth of mine. My mom's a writer, I blame her for her awesome vocabulary - it's contagious.
I used to pick their brain all of the time and ask what they enjoyed most about life, love, work - etc. I was an INCREDIBLY inquisitive child. The curiosity never stopped ... ever.
I remember as a kid sitting there playing cards, looking at their skin and dissecting it. So, this is what happens when our cells age ... wow, better hurry up and start livin' while it's still good!
And now there's a bit of my backstory ... but now onto the main dish. This story has to actually do with my Aunt Esther. I was the only person with her when she suddenly passed when I was 17, and to this day it stays with me. Watching someone die is truly a gnarly experience.
I always questioned what death was like. I knew we were all going to do it, and I grew up around old people - but honestly no one close to me had passed before.
2002 changed everything.
2002 was one of the worst years of my life. Hands down to downtown - fucking horrible. I had finished high school the summer prior, but was spending the year working two jobs before heading out to NYC to live and go to school (Lee Strasberg Theater Institute in NYC, not like college ... hahaha ... me in college. Yah right!).
That January my family started dropping like flies. I know everyone goes through a time like this ... but when you're actually experiencing it, you don't want to fucking hear it.
It started with my Uncle Art, then to my grandfather a few weeks later ... followed by my other uncle (my dad's best friend who we called "uncle") - who was SUPER young and COMPLETELY unexpected ... to then my Aunt Esther.
Every 3 weeks like clockwork, phone would ring ... BAM ... insert tears, black dress, cemetery.
Mind you too during this time, I was being stalked by 4 of my former best friends. Yah, that was rad.
Either way, when the first three deaths came around - my mom, dad, brother and I were all in shock. Wait, shock doesn't even come close to it ... we were all on auto pilot. Burying my uncle, who was the same age as my dad was ... unbelievable - we didn't think anything could get worse.
I wasn't close to a lot of my family growing up - I was in fact estranged from both sides of them. The people my dad grew up with were/are fucking assholes. Seriously, read this post. Social media has bridged a gap between one of my uncles and I, but other than that ... I don't say this to sound cold, but very literally the people my dad grew up with - I am not related to.
My mom's side was a bit meh. My mom's sisters are total nutjobs. One isn't even worse than the other, they both have their moments of ... are you seriously doing this right now?? Really?!?!? We stopped talking to them both around the time I was 12. I was neither here nor there about them anyway. That whole family is fucking weird, man.
The only shiny beacon of hope from my mom's side however was my dear Aunt Esther. My dear, dear Aunt Esther - we called her Auntie. (She was my great grandmother's sister. I think that made her my great-great-aunt. Either way, she was super old. Like way way old.)
She practically raised my brother and I growing up just as much as my parents did. We were ALWAYS at her apartment. Dudes, she taught me how to play ping pong (as there was a ping pong table in her building's basement), and for reals I was bouncing that ball before I was tall enough to even see over the table. Well we called it ping pong - she called it table tennis.
She fed us Steak-Ums on Arturo's bread with mac and cheese with velveeta cheese until we passed out and took our naps while she watched her "stories." The afternoons were spent on the piano stool where I received lessons - she was an AH-MAZING piano player.
The. sun. rose. and. set. on. my. Aunt. Esther.
She was my lady, my go-to outside of my parentals - she was my friend, my family, my heart.
When I was in 3rd grade, Auntie got diagnosed with a form of alzheimers. To this day I don't know exactly what she had - but when I heard the news I was DEVASTATED!!!
But what does this mean? Is she going to die? ::flashbacks to being 6 with my mini-little breakdown:: Wow, this really is happening.
I remember my parents sitting me down and explaining to me that she wasn't going to die, but she was going to have to move to an assisted living situation.
Assisted living? What's that?
I spent the next 48 hours finding out.
I didn't remember Auntie repeating a lot of things, I mean, she was old - who doesn't repeat things from time to time? I was incredibly confused with everything that was happening, but just trusted in my parents that if this is what she needed - this is what she needed.
We packed up her things almost immediately out of fear for her safety (she had been wandering around unable to find her way back home ... so classic), and I vividly remember to this day my mom and I packing up some of her glasses in the kitchen and just sobbing sobbing sobbing. Auntie was all that I had. She was my go-to, my friend - I couldn't believe this was happening.
Wherever she's going I'm going too, I said.
Jenny, you can't stay with her, my mom said.
Yes I can. I can help her adjust to her new place.
That's not possible, Jenny.
My dad chimed in, honey - that's actually not a bad idea. Of all the people in the world Auntie will trust and listen to - it's Jen.
It's a done deal then! I'm going to spend the weekend with Auntie in her new place, I reached my hand out and shook my dad's hand.
Both of my parents shot me this look of, does she really know what she's getting herself into? Who wants to stay in an assisted living home?
You have to understand one thing about me as a kid ... I was very, very, very, strong-willed. If I said I was going to do something, no matter what - I did it, always, 100% of the time. I might not have known what an "assisted living" home was, but I knew I loved Auntie and wherever she was going, I was going to go too.
That night we moved her from her Bristol, Connecticut apartment to Village Gate (an assisted living home) in Farmington. We had sent Auntie somewhere during the move - I can't remember where, but we couldn't let her know what we were doing.
Getting her into her new place at Village Gate was literally one of the most painful experiences ever. Not even like moving in ... that part was easy, and done behind her back - explaining to her that this was her new home, and she couldn't go back to the apartment was impossible.
I held her all night as she sobbed. She sat in her new place among her things, but was terribly confused why this was happening to her. I had no idea what she was experiencing, or what to say - I just held her and told her how much I loved her, and how much she meant to me (omg, way to bring on the waterworks Jen), and that everything was going to be okay.
It's NOT, she snapped back. It's NOT okay! I don't know why I am here - I don't know what is going on! I don't know who you people think you are for moving me. HOW. DARE. YOU.
Now, Auntie may have gotten cranky here and there with me over the years - but this was a side I have never seen before - she was ANNNGGRRYYYYYYYY!!!! And at ME!!! The one person she loved!!
I love you Auntie, I would say right back attempting to not raise my voice. I love you Auntie. It's going to be okay, I promise. Everyone moves from time to time ... look at how many new friends you can make here! This is going to be a great adventure!!
Oh, shut up, she snarled.
The next 48 hours were miserable. miserable. miserable. I attempted to help her socialize in the dining room, and even got her to go with me to the movies with my brother ... but she was gone. I didn't know what she was experiencing mentally, but I knew deep deep in my heart at that very young age that no matter what - love could conquer all. I stayed patient, and repeatedly told her how much I loved her and that everything was going to be okay - I think I was trying to even convince myself at that point.
Sunday night came, and I had school the next morning so my parents came to pick me up. One of the staffers had pulled aside my dad (who was her legal guardian) and said she was fearful for me leaving that Auntie might need more supervised care; she wasn't adjusting as nicely as they had hoped for.
Not another move, my dad thought. Alrite, what can we do? He replied to the nurse.
I busied Auntie while my mom, dad, and brother moved all of her things from one apartment into the actual nursing home section of Village Gate.
When I walked Auntie into her new place. My parents were still moving the last of everything in from the car.
Auntie looked over to me with rage in her eyes, what is this NOW?! Why are my things here!!?! What do you people think you are doing to me??
She then raised her hand and slapped me square across the face.
I stood there completely shocked and motionless as tears began streaming down my cheeks.
My parents entered the room - is everything okay?
I'm barely able to utter the words ... Auntie ... h-i-t me.
My mom wrapped her arms around me, shhhhh it's okay Jenny. It's okay.
My dad settled Auntie in as my mom guided me out of the room, and crouched down to my eye level.
Jenny, she's not there anymore. This is going to be hard for you to understand, but I need you to try. The Auntie that you knew is gone. You know, baby, that Auntie would NEVER harm you. Never. Ever. This is a new Auntie. She is angry now because she is going through an adjustment, but she will hopefully come back and in the meantime I just need you to stay strong and send her lots of love, she needs you right now Jenny.
I remember shaking my head knowing that there may be no more piano lessons, or steak-ums, but I could be strong enough to help Auntie through this. After all, she took such good care of me over the years it was the least I could do.
I'll stay strong mom, I promise, I said as we embraced.
I spent the next 9 years never breaking that promise. It was incredibly hard having Auntie there but knowing that mentally she was gone. Little bits here and there would come back for a second or two, but she mostly stuck to the same thing over and over, like a broken record ...
Auntie: How are you, darling?
Me: I'm great! School is going super well.
Auntie: How are your parents?
Me: Mom and dad are awesome!
Auntie: That's wonderful. How is school?
Me: School is going super well! (said with equal enthusiasm)
Auntie: And your parents?
Me: Mom and dad are awesome!
Over and over and over ... the same surface level conversation. It was difficult too because when she was first diagnosed I was 8 - I matured right before her eyes. She had ZERO correlation between the Jenny she played piano with, and the one that called her regularly as a teenager. Two very different people in her mind.
Her health had actually remained pretty solid over the years. There might have been a time or two she caught a cold, but other than that she was UNBELIEVABLY healthy from a physical standpoint - mentally however, she was cooked.
Flash forward to April of 2002 - I was working nights at a local modeling agency, and mornings at the local Starbucks to earn money to move to NYC that summer.
Everything at that point had been such a blur, so much death, so many crazy situations ... to say I was on overload is the understatement of the century - I very literally don't know how my family and I were still standing.
I was sitting on the floor of the library watching TV (I had surprisingly gotten off of work early that day at Starbucks), my cell phone rang.
Jen, it's mom. Listen, some tests were just run on Auntie and none of it is making sense to your father or I. It all looks like these bricks that are adding up, and we're fearful for what it might mean. We need you to go to the nursing home and get Auntie into an ambulance and have her checked out at the hospital.
Jen, I need you to stay calm - Auntie needs you.
Those three words were all she needed to say - BOOOOMMMMMM ... I RANNNNNNNNNNNNN out of the library through the living room into the kitchen where I had my car keys, and out the front door - I'm not even sure if I locked it.
I got in my white cavalier convertible and literally went 70 mph down Trout Brook Road in West Harford (speed limit 35) - I was FLLYYINNNNNNNGGGGGG to get to her nursing home.
I kept praying over and over, please be okay Auntie. Please be okay Auntie. We can't lose you too - I won't let this happen, not now.
I arrive at her nursing home and realize I beat the ambulance. That's fine, I thought - lemme just get to her and her doctor ... it's going to be okay.
I RUNNNNNNNNNNNNNN down the corridor to her room.
The nurses ask me if everything is okay - yes yes yes, but my Aunt is sick, I say in passing as I am still running.
I reach her room and call for her, Auntie! Auntie! Are you okay?
I walk into the dimly lit room and notice her sitting in her chair ... sitting up in her chair ... perfectly fine.
Hi, darling! She said
Huh? I thought.
I hug her and kiss her on her cheek as I say - I'll be right back, Auntie.
I talk to the nurse outside her room - um, where is the Dr. and where is my Aunt's ambulance? I'm taking her to the hospital.
Oh, would you like us to call one for you now?
WHAT IS GOING ON WITH YOU PEOPLE?!?! I scream!! YES!!! My parents said her tests came back all weird, and she needed to go to the hospital?!!? Why wasn't there an ambulance here already?!?! I'm so confused!!
We can call one for you, one second - the nurse said.
I walked back into Auntie's room and sat on the corner of her bed.
How are you feeling?
Oh just fine! she said How are you?
I'm great! Knowing where this conversation was going, I was prepared to tell her that I had in fact graduated from school, and my parents are also doing well.
I really enjoyed myself last weekend, she said.
I look up, completely caught off guard.
That ice cream we all had - it was delicious.
The weekend prior, my mom, grandmother and I had taken Auntie out to get a new pair of shoes and we stopped off at a Friendlys to grab a sundae. How the FUCCKKKKK did she remember that?!!?!!?
My eyes light up, and tears start to form. This was the first time in almost 9 years that I had even a moment of a normal conversation with Auntie.
Wow, I can't believe you remembered that. Yes, that was a great day.
She started laughing and thanked me again. I have such a wonderful time with you, she said.
I love you Auntie.
I love you too, darling.
Miss - the ambulance is here.
I sat there unbelievably confused on what to do. Do I call my parents and tell them that she is okay? How the fuck did she remember that? She must be okay? Ugh! It's not really my place to call ...
Yes! Thank you!
Come on Auntie, we're going to go for a little ride to the Dr.'s office. My parents don't want me to drive you, so we're going to take an ambulance.
The nurse entered the room with a wheelchair and she wheeled her out the front door to the waiting ambulance.
I helped them get her into the back and onto the stretcher.
Now, Auntie, maybe if you're a good girl they'll even turn on the sirens for you!!
She proceeded to stick her tongue out at me.
I started laughing.
Miss, come up front and ride with me the medic said.
Ride up front? You sure I shouldn't just take my own car?
Naw, I'm sure she'd like you to ride along.
I got in the front seat of the ambulance and we drove to the hospital in Hartford.
We arrived at the hospital in less than a half hour. Everything was super calm. When we pulled up to the unloading area, I hopped out from the front and greeted Auntie as she was being wheeled out the back.
I reached up to hold her hand as they lifted her down.
It's okay, Auntie - I'm here.
Hi, darling! She said, as if it was the first time that day she had seen me.
They wheeled her into the emergency room on the stretcher, and in a matter of minutes she had a room. I stepped out to call my parents to let them know I had gotten her here, and everything was okay. (Both of my parents were still at work at the time, and both had strong commitments they couldn't break.)
It went to both of their voicemails. HMMM weird, I thought - but alright.
I step back inside the emergency room and sat next to Auntie and waited patiently for the doctor.
An hour goes by, Auntie slowly drifts off to sleep as I stay on watch.
The doctor enters the room and looks at her vitals (that the medics had taken in the ambulance), and look at the machines which were beeping regularly.
I stand up. Hello Doctor! I'm Jen, this is my Aunt Esther. Now, I know my parents said they were concerned, but I want you to know that today, she actually recalled something she experienced last weekend. That was a first in almost 9 years.
He looks up from his clipboard worried. Miss, where are you parents?
Where are my parents? They're at work.
Miss, I need you to call your parents - we are losing her.
The brightly lit room gradually got darker until it all went to black.
I passed out.
I don't remember the next half hour or so, but I do remember that my mom wound up cancelling her meeting and was literally walking down the hall at the time I hit the floor, and my dad and brother who all "knew" something didn't feel right - were literally seconds behind her everyone in their own independent car.
I came to in the hallway, my brother had his arms wrapped around me.
What is going on, I said.
We're losing Auntie, Jen.
But she was fine, Michael. She remembered the ice cream from last weekend, and she even stuck her tongue out at me. I didn't even know if she needed to go to the hospital, how could we be losing her?
Guys, my dad said - it's time. Would you like to be with her?
My brother and I dash into the room.
My mom, dad, brother, and I stood next to her bed as the beeps from the machine gradually faded out.
Beep ... beep ... beep ...
... beep ... beep ...
I held onto her hand - I love you Auntie.
... beep ...
..... .... ....
There wasn't a dry eye in the room.
She was gone, just like that.
Her physical body still right here, and warm - but her mouth hung slightly open, and this overwhelming peace permeated the emergency room.
That's it? That's death? It looks rather lovely actually - I thought.
Emotions then fully took over as I realized that Auntie was now finally gone, and I started balling to the point where I was hysterical.
SHE WAS FINE!!! I SCREAMED!!! SHE WAS FINE!!!! SHE KNEW ABOUT THE ICE CREAMMMM!!! I screamed into my dad's shoulder.
Shhhhhh ... it's okay ... ssshhhhh ... the tests just didn't add up. We wouldn't have sent you here alone if we knew she was going to pass - but she wanted you here to herself. You two were kindred spirits.
her ... I sobbed
I don't remember the rest of that day, how I got my car back from the nursing home, or really even anything from her wake or funeral - it was all such a blur.
What sticks with me the most though is how UNBELIEVABLY peaceful it is watching someone die. Albeit, obviously, people die from different things - in her case she had an aneurysm. But she never cried out in pain, she never showed any sign of resisting or not wanting to go. She was wheeled into the room on the stretcher, closed her eyes, had those that she loved around her and just like that she was gone. It was one of the most incredible experiences in my life to witness something so personal, and so natural. We're all going to die - it is the one fate that we will all certainly share in this world. What is left behind however is the love from the life that we have lead; it is only our legacy that lives on, and I am SO proud to say that Auntie still to this day remains close to my heart ...
This is her locket ...
I still keep the same pictures she kept inside ...
Left: Nana, and Dad-dad (her sister and brother in law ... my great grandmother/ grandfather)
Right: Mama (her mother ... my great great grandmother)
Death isn't something to fear - it's a constant. So what! I have let go of the fear that incapacitated me when I was 6 with my mini-little breakdown, and now more than anything I fear a life not lived. Go out, have adventures, they'll make great stories to the kids you'll be lucky enough to babysit one day.
I love you Auntie!
ps. I couldn't find a single picture anywhere of my aunt online (as I don't have any grrrr), but I did find her obit. Kinda morbid, but thanks google! It was great to revisit.