Ray called to check on his Aunt Leona in the hospital the other day.  She said she couldn’t breathe and asked for his help.  He hopped on the first plane to Chicago.

Aunt Leona is the younger sister of Ray’s mother.  Ray used to call her Auntie Ohnie when he was a wee (and very cute) toddler.  She lives in the same house she grew up in just outside of Chicago in a village called Itasca.  Or shall I say lived in the same house?

Leona slipped on the ice last February and broke her arm.  She hasn’t been home since.
 For the last nine months, Leona has bounced back and forth between a nursing facility and the hospital.  She was a sickly child and suffers from asthma–not a good thing for a hospitalized elderly person with broken bones as they are susceptible to pneumonia–which, by the way, she has had several times over the past few months.

Without going into too much detail, Leona has gone through a lot since this happened.  It’s almost house of horrors to me. 

She get’s probed and picked at as if she were an inanimate object.  They discovered cancer and removed part of her colon.  She’s now in isolation because she developed Clostridium Difficile.  She has a problem regulating her electrolytes so they restrict her fluids.  Every time we see her she asks for water and that stresses me out.  Why can’t they just giver her water?  I mean, I know why, but there has to be an alternative.  They treat her for these things in such a cruel and inhumane way.

Ray has power of attorney and looks after her.  The doctors don’t always call him back when he has questions and some of them have that Doctor/God complex.

Oh benevolent Doctor, please dumb it down for me.  I am too stupid to understand your technical mumbo jumbo.  Why, who would ever think that there are reputable medical resources on the internet?  Prick.

When we lived in Chicago, Ray and I frequently drove out to Itasca to see Leona.  She’d say “The boys are coming over.”  I loved that.  The boys.

The center part of Itasca looks like a movie set right down to the white church with the towering steeple.  It’s actually a historical landmark and Leona lives right in the middle of it.  She owns a modest old house on a huge lot with no sidewalk.  The inside reveals the tell-tell signs that a Depression Baby lives there. 

It’s funny now to look at old photos because not one thing has changed in that house since FDR.  Aside from miscellaneous canned goods, the pantry is stocked with used plastic bread bags, empty mayonnaise jars and plastic deli containers.  She saves and reuses everything.  You’d be amazed at how long she can stretch out the life of a twist tie.

I…just…don’t know how to write this post.  I have been ruminating on it for days.  Please forgive me as I’m at the point where I just have to finish…

Ray was at the hospital the day after she said she could not breathe.  He asked them to remove the tubes and wires that were plugged into her frail very dried out body.  Her hearing aid batteries had died leaving her shrouded in silence.  She was so contagious with the Clostridium Difficile that Ray had to suit up in scrubs to sit with her.  Ray’s niece Gretchen was there too.  Gretchen is a chaplain for Children’s Hospital.  (You think I gush about what a saint Ray is—Gretchen could tell you stories that could melt a heart of stone.  She is truly awesome.)  Ray finally got them to give her water, and then they gave her some morphine.  Leona seemed comfortable now—as comfortable as one could be in that situation.  After a short time, she took one last breath and quietly slipped away with Ray and Gretchen at her side.  She was just five hours shy of her 89th birthday.  That is so like Ray’s family to be that punctual.

My phone rang right away.  I was home with my cold and was not really prepared for the news.  Ray told me she was gone and then hung up.  I started to weep even though I was not all that sad.  If anything, I was happy.  She was free now.  The only thing that made me sad was realizing that I would never sit in the big comfy chair in her creaky old house eating cookies and drinking coffee with her again.  She treated me like one of her own nephews.  It was over—she was over.  Forever.  Now I started to cry. 

Crying with a head cold.  Talk about a tsunami of snot.

For a brief moment I was overcome with a feeling that she was with me except now she could breathe and see and hear.  She was letting me know that everything was OK.  Some people think that a person really does pay one last visit when they die.  Other’s think that it’s a bunch of bullshit.  I think it doesn’t matter what it is as long as it’s comforting and leaves you with a sense of closure.  It’s my dreamworld and I’m going to believe in whatever it takes to make me feel that someone I adored, admired and loved love is in a better place–dammit.  Then the feeling left as quickly as it came.  In my heart, I knew it was her.  I looked up at the ceiling and said “Goodbye Leona.  I hope our paths cross again someday.”

A couple of weeks ago, Ray came home with a DVD that his sister had made from all the old family home movies.  It was such a treat to see the films of a young vibrant Leona playing with cute little Ray.  At one point you could see them talking to each other.  There’s no sound on those faded old films and I wondered if he was calling her Auntie Ohnie.

14 Thoughts on “Auntie Ohnie

  1. You and Ray truly have my deepest sympathy.

    I hope your paths cross again, too. Certainly, she will be with you on this path everytime you remember her.

  2. I’m sorry Cobban. Please send my condolences to Ray. Your blog was beautiful. I could really see her house, especially the pantry.


  3. Beautiful post. I, like you, believe your paths will cross again, until then hold on to your memories, it sounds as tho you have many beatiful ones.

    My condolences to you all.

  4. Cobban, tell Ray I’m thinking about him too.

  5. Jim on 04/12/2007 at 10:10 AM said:

    We are so sorry to hear about your loss. Leona is in a better place now, wherever or whatever it may be. She will always be with you both as long as you remember her. You and Ray have our deepest sympathy.

  6. I am sorry for your loss. My thoughts are with you and Ray.

  7. That’s such sad news. Thanks for sharing such nice rememberances of her. Please convey my condolances to Ray.

  8. Rick Purdy on 04/12/2007 at 8:59 PM said:

    My sympathy to Ray and you for the loss. My thoughts are with you both.

  9. Bob D. on 05/12/2007 at 5:48 AM said:

    My condolences for your and Ray’s loss.

  10. Joe on 05/12/2007 at 12:06 PM said:

    How nice to be reminded that sharing death is one of life’s greatest gifts. For sure the spectrum of emotions embraces you both through this process. However, it allows us to be again reminded of our own destiny. Your writings on this episode for Ray and yourself actually places a smile on my face and rekindled good memories here, Thanks!

  11. Your memories of Leona are so vivid. I feel for Ray and you after reading about your loss. Big hugs to you both!

  12. Sorry I am so late commenting. I’ve had trouble keeping up while on the road.

    My sympathies to you and Ray.


  13. Pingback: Goodbye Bob Cobban » Lopaka Lounge

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