Wednesday, March 9, 2011


My aunt is the last of her generation of my relatives. First gone was her husband, my mother's brother; then another aunt, then my dad, and, four months ago, my mom. I've written about them all. Now, my aunt is diagnosed with metastatic cancer in her liver and brain. As always, she faces her challenges with grace and strength, taking what comes to her and doing what needs doing. Ninety-three and sharper than me, mentally, she's about to begin radiation to her brain, and, most likely, some sort of chemo for her liver. She wants to wring as much out of life as she can; and I don't doubt that when it becomes clear there's no more to be wrung, she'll accept it with the grace that has always determined her life. It's not always been easy for her. But this isn't the time for that...

For many years, she was a model; her picture has graced the pages of The New Yorker, among others. In her nineties, she remains an elegant beauty, with the cheekbones of Audrey Hepburn, the clothes of (fill in the most tastefully dressed and coiffed person you've ever seen.) Until this most recent setback, diagnosed after falling at her home (where she's lived alone for years and insists on it), she attended theater, museum shows, and has had a full dance card of dinner dates with her many friends.

We've spent the last three days at her bedside in the hospital, along with her daughter. Tonight I sneaked her favorite Citadelle Gin into her room, doled out her preferred tablespoon in water and ice. Refilled once. Along with a couple other of her friends, we drank more gin, some wine, had sandwiches and cookies and, to the chagrin of her doctor who came in during the festivities, my aunt enjoyed some decidedly not salt-free potato chips. (To her credit, after a brief look askance, her doc said, "What the heck, you can have whatever you want." Not sure she noticed it wasn't water only in her glass, nor the lime wedges in what we were drinking, the brown bag at my feet...)

Last night it was pastrami on rye.

Far as I'm concerned, that's exactly the way a ninety-three year old lady ought to be cared for in the hospital: good food, good friends, and gin.


  1. Sid, to your aunt I can only say "Congratulations on a long, full life."

    When I am in the same position as she is, I will want scotch, but good on ya for taking the gin to her.

  2. Gin!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!
    thanks for bringin back memories of the worst hangover a 15 yr old Frankie Drackman ever had...
    I'd rather have the cancer..
    your Aunt will be in my prayers(I Know, I Know, I might as well beat off in the ocean. which I've actually done in every Ocean except the Arctics)
    and must be that time of the month, we both hope F-uckabee gets smoted down with the most humiliating/ironic fate a Surpreme being could come up with, and...

    You like Audrey Hepburn too?!?
    Of course if I was old enough to have seen "Breakfast & Tiffanies" on the bigscreen,I'd be your age.
    Seriously, whenever Mrs. D won't give me any, I mean, is a little distant, I just throw "BAT" in the Blue-Ray, and it's Co-itis city...

    No Cigarettes?? They haven't built the hospital that could keep ME from firin one up...


  3. Dear Sid,

    there is not a lot that can be said when well loved people leave us.

    Words do not really ease the pain and loss, however sincere and heartfelt.

    All we have are the memories of the joys and sorrows of shared times past; but know these will always remain and stay evergreen within us until it is our time to go.

    Be thankful for your good fortune to have her with you for all of those years, and that you are there to comfort her with the things that are dear to her.

    There could be no finer or sadder thing you could do for her.

    As always, at these times, this bittersweet truth comes to me:

    "Parting is all we know of heaven, and all we need to know of hell."

    God bless you and your aunt and all that are with you.


  4. I maintain once the word "palliative" enters the equation, it's a license to vice. The first time mom was hospitalized in the recurrent/metastatic setting, the *only* upside to her being in Medford was an endless supply of Harry and David treats. I picked up the wine, and her oncologist even joined us for a glass.

    If the doctor comments on the lime wedges, I should hope you would mutter something about scurvy and how it's underrecognized in the community.

  5. Great to hear from you, Eric. I was rereading some Surgeonsblog posts recently and remembering how much I'd appreciated your comments.

    Same for Mike.

    Eugene's comments appreciated and agreed with.

    Frank's, too. Some sort of mind-meld? Must. Not. Let. Happen.

  6. Strength and peace to all of you, Sid.

  7. I'll tip one to you and yours, Sid.

  8. Dr S, I am sorry to come in here so late, but do want to let you know that I am sorry to hear about your dear aunt. She sounds like a fabulous woman and we would all do well to live a full life as she has ..with grace and a joie de vivre.

    I think that was a great idea to bring those things in to her.

    I was thinking about your post after I first read it and even though it is sad that she has this illness now, I felt inspired by the example of her life as you've described it. I admit, that over these last few years ...seeing people I love die has shaken me up and more than ever I realize how short life really is. And I worry about being alone or not able to do things, etc. But ..just worrying like that is wasting the time with everyone in front of us now. And she's an example of how life is what you make it. Thank you for sharing about her. You've been blessed to have such a dear person in your life. I am sure that goes both ways.

    I have a Gin story.

    Gin. Oh how I do love gin and tonic with a lime twist. THAT is my favorite alcoholic beverage. I could drink it like water. I wish I could drink it like water and not have calories,carbs ..oh and drunkenness.

    That being said ...I rarely drink, but when out ..I will usually order 1 or 2 of those.

    It all started the summer I was a 20 yr old nanny for a state trooper who was alone raising 2 girls. Every night he'd come in at 5 and make a gin & Tonic with lime twist for both of us.

    One night he came in and there wasn't any ice.

    "No ice?! You didn't make any ice?!"

    "No ice Bob. No, I didn't make any ice."

    "PAT! the most important job you have here is to make ice!"

    "Okay ..I'll make ice."

    Every night for the rest of the summer, as he walked up the steps to the kitchen he'd ask,"Did you make ice Pat?"

    "Yes Bob ...I made ice," :)

    I also like beer, but definitely not a sweet drink person ..not even soda unless I get a yen once every few years for root beer or cream soda.

    I really love what you did for her.



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