(Connie, circa 1932)
My dad split when I was 7 (my sis was 4). We didn't see much of him again (to this day). My mom raised us. Connie was there. Always. Every weekend she'd make the drive from her home in Arlington to MD where mom, sis and I lived. Usually she'd arrive bearing gifts, which over time, spoiled us rotten. She was almost always the "good parent". When mom was "being mean" (i.e. making us do things we didn't want to do), Connie was the person we could run to. Not dad.
When I was a kid, and in the throes of a pretty severe Star Wars addiction, she was my primary supplier. She would have no problem trekking around town, looking for that one elusive figure for me ("Klaatu in Hoth gear with a brown Yoda snake and special edition Han blaster pistol? I'm on it!"). Like I said, she spoiled us pretty badly. But in a good way.
As we got a bit older, Connie was the chauffeur. Anywhere we asked (begged/pleaded) to go. Starting with a Blue Oyster Cult show in '82, she was my ride to nearly every concert I saw until I could drive myself. Always happy to endure the worst 80s metal bands; whatever it took to make me (us) happy. Judas Priest, Metallica/The Cult, Dokken, Skid Row, Iron Maiden (how many times?), Dio, Kix, Pink Floyd. You name it, she saw it with me (us). And only rarely had an ill word to say about the experience, no matter how bad the bands or opening acts were.
As time went on, and I had my daughter (at the ripe old age of *almost* 22 years), Connie was there to help with the next generation. Diabetes had left her wheelchair bound by this time, and she needed help around the house. My (then) wife and I were barely into our 20s and together pulling in maybe $30k/year at most. We needed a roommate. It seemed a perfect fit. She was there to help with babysitting and pretty much anything else we needed when it came to our kid. When my (then) wife and I split years later, Connie became even more important to my kid. My daughter and she were together daily for the first ~6 years of said daughter's life. Without Connie and my mom, raising my kid the years after my (then) wife left would have been infinitely harder, if not impossible.
Later in life, she inherited her mother's house in PA and moved up there. I didn't visit as much as I should have. I didn't call as much as I should have. The usual story. We get older, we get busier, we seem to have less time for those around us who matter. By we, of course I mean "I".
Her health had been up and down over the last couple of years. The diabetes continually assaulting her body. She wasn't really one to abstain from the things she enjoyed in life. Not a good idea, when the things you enjoy are cookies, brownies and the like; the whole while you're fighting your body, and sugar is the enemy. But I suppose it's a quality vs. quantity of life issue (at least I tell myself that). Do I really want to live forever eating only wheatgrass shakes and slices of white bread? No thanks. I think, towards the end she made the same choice. 76 years may have seemed like enough to her.
Thankfully, the end was peaceful. She had gone into the hospital, and been transferred to the ER a week or so back. She had a couple of bad days in the ER, and then a good day. She'd pulled out miracle recoveries in the past and we were hoping for one more. Then she had a really bad day. Thursday. She was unconscious for the most part all day. As my mom, sis, other aunt [edit to add: and perhaps most importantly for both of them, daughter] held a bedside vigil, her vitals faded over the course of hours. Her blood pressure dropped to nearly nothing, and sometime around 6pm, she was gone.
The funeral was Monday. It was tough. My sister and my kid both got up and read/said some wonderful things about the woman who meant so much to all of us. I wasn't able to say a thing. I tend to devolve into a blubbering mess at funerals. At least I do so quietly, for the most part. If I'd have been able to utter a few words about her, they'd have been pretty similar to this post. Thankfully, my sis hit on almost everything I wished I could have said. Thanks K.
Connie is buried in a cemetery a few blocks from the home in which she grew up, and spent her final years. It's a good cemetery. I used to take walks there with my mom when I was little. It's home to a lot of my family these days. She's among friends. And at peace.
Damnit. I almost made it through this without crying. Almost.
If there's a silver lining to this dark-cloud of a week, it's got to be that my kid is now almost certainly the only junior in her high school who is homeowner.
Edit to add: This is the poem that my sis and kid found to read at Connie's funeral. My kid read it. I blubbered.
Many Winters - by Nancy Wood
All my life is a dance.
When I was young and feeling the earth,
My steps were quick and easy.
The beat of the earth was so loud
That my drum was silent beside it.
All of my life rolled out from my feet
Like my land which had no end as far as I could see.
The rhythm of my life was pure and free.
As I grew older my feet kept dancing so hard
That I wore a spot in the earth.
At the same time I made a hole in the sky.
I danced to the sun and the rain and the moon lifted me up
So that I could dance to the stars.
My head touched the clouds sometimes
And my feet danced deep in the earth
So that I became the music I danced to everywhere
It was the music I dance to everywhere
It was the music of life.
Now my steps are slow and hard
And my body fails my spirit,
Yet my dance is still within me and
My song is the air I breathe.
My song insists that I keep dancing forever.
My song insists that I keep rhythm
With all of the earth and the sky.
My song insists that I will never die.