(The only photo I have of her is this snapshot with Uncle Steve mugging in the foreground, and she by his side with that wonderful smile on her face, Yes--that's me on the right.)
I woke up early today, thinking about my Aunt Jean, my mother's sister, who died yesterday after a long illness (Alzheimer's Disease). I remember my last interaction with her at her rest home.
She looked like an adolescent, with acne and her dark hair--relatively free of gray even at her age--now cut in a bob. She didn't have her glasses on and as we sat around the table I wondered if to her, we all looked like blurry moving masses of color. Uncle Steve, her husband, met my mother, my father and I there; we had come because it was my aunt's birthday.
She sat silent, gazing at us like we were the ones in the zoo, her mask-like face showing neither awe, nor curiosity. Uncle Steve stroked her hand. She turned and looked at my father, mother, then me, then at the lady serving lunch.
After chatting at her and around her and congratulating her on her birthday, it was time to go. I stood and leaned over very close to her face and said "Happy Birthday, Aunt Jean." The blank mask she'd worn the entire visit dropped away for a second; her eyes lit up and I sensed the person there. A wide, beauty-queen smile--a twin to my mother's radiant grin--broke over her face. I patted her shoulder, moved back to give my mother her chance. As my mother stood up from her hug, Aunt Jean's mask slid back into place.
We left her behind the locked doors, walking out into the brisk sunny day. Although in many ways she's been gone a long time, today I miss her more than I can say.