A morning service: death and disclosure

My next-door neighbor Mary died Tuesday night at the age of 89, and this morning I attended her service at the Catholic church where she was a longtime member. Officially, the service was called a “Liturgy of Christian Death and Burial,” and I haven’t attended one like it before. Many words of comfort were spoken, and it made me wish I were a true believer. (I’m a Unitarian Universalist, and our beliefs, such as they are, aren’t nearly so reassuring.)

I’ve watched Mary slide downhill over the past couple of years. Her daughter Wendy has been her live-in caregiver, and she’s kept me and my husband up to date on the many changes in Mary’s health – the operations and procedures, whether and how they worked, the trips to the hospital, the transfer to a nursing home, then home again. Ultimately, she died in a hospital – they’d been going to move her to a Hospice, but she was too weak to withstand the transfer.

Looking out our windows, seeing the ambulance in Mary’s driveway yet one more time, I’ve often wondered whether I would want to hang on under the same compromised circumstances, but who’s to say? I won’t know till I get there, and I hope that’s at least a couple of decades away. These are the kinds of questions I address in my mystery novel Eldercide, which revolves around a home health care agency, its staff and clients. But it feels highly inappropriate to discuss my book now, in the wake of Mary’s death. I’ll save that for another day.

Today’s experiences raised some thorny questions for me as a writer. Sitting alone during the service, I took voluminous notes, and eventually they may find their way into my fiction, but it’s still far too early. And how much to share online? I considered posting Mary’s full name and part of her obituary, but I didn’t feel I had the right, not without her family’s consent, although they probably would have been pleased. Mary lived a full and fruitful life, with five children and eight grandchildren.  Shortly before Mary died, Wendy told her how lucky she was to have had Mary as a mother, and Mary said, “No, I’m the lucky one, to have had you.”

Etan Patz wasn’t so lucky. Thirty years ago, the six-year-old boy disappeared from his SoHo loft, and the tragic case will be revisited tonight at 10:00 p.m. on ABC’s 20/20. I have a special interest in the program: we lived in the same coop loft complex as the Patz family, and our daughter was in the daycare program run by Etan’s mother Julie. I suspect I’ll be posting more about Etan tomorrow.

6 thoughts on “A morning service: death and disclosure

  1. My mom, age 90, is sharp and definitely wants to live longer, in spite of joint replacements, failing eyesight and loss of hearing. She’s willing to put up with any misery that comes along, because she finds the times so interesting she doesn’t want to miss out on whatever happens next. And she’s a Nascar fan too. Attitude is a big part of how we manage aging. I can’t remember who said it (Art Linkletter maybe?), but “Old age ain’t for sissies.”

    Incredible that you have this connection to the Etan Patz case. I’ll be back to read more.


  2. I’m so sorry for the loss of your friend. It’s an inevitable part of life, but that doesn’t make it any easier. It’s good that you can share a little of her life with us.

  3. I, too, add my condolences.

    One practical note for all to consider. Long term health care…Not everyone is lucky enough to have someone that can live in and provide these services. LTC does this. It’s not the cheapest insurance, but, if you ever need it, it will pay for itself many times over. Think of it as protecting your retirement nest egg.

    One last point. LTC is not just for the elderly. Anyone who is unable to care for themselves can use it. Please note, I don’t sell it, or have any association with anyone who does. I just have a policy, and it’s given me greater peace of mind.

    Again, Julie, my regrets.

    Best Regards, Galen.

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