Of my five cousins, four are girls and one is a boy, though actually by now they are women and a man. Four are my seniors and one is younger than I am (but not by much). Three live in far-away states and I see them rarely. Two live nearby and I don't see as much of them as I would like. The oldest of us is not far from 90 and the youngest is, I think, 67. When I think about those who live far away, I am increasingly aware that we don't have enough contact and that possibly I have seen them for the last time. So, to sort of make up for that, I try harder to see and spend time with the two cousins who live nearby.
Today my sister and I went to have lunch with one of our cousins. "Phyllis" is unwell. She has been diagnosed with something none of us had ever heard of before: Lewy Body Disease. Turns out it is the second most common type of senile dementia; it is similar to Alzheimer's without the mood swings, but with troubling hallucinations and a tendency to fall. It has features in common with Parkinsonism and is often mistaken for that disease.
Phyllis has always had a sunny disposition and that hasn't changed a bit. She's a bit forgetful, but, heck, aren't we all at this point? She has the endearing capacity to laugh at herself and even invites us to join her. She gets distracted but still has her fine sense of humor. Sometimes her dates are mixed up (she laughingly told us we were 45 hours late for lunch, as she'd expected us two days ago), and she's having some trouble with days and nights. She's a bit on the clumsy side at this point and her problems are compounded by something mysterious going on in her back that makes it hard for her to stand erect. All of this is plaguing Phyllis, but she is still our cousin, the same cousin that we have always loved.
It won't be long, I think, before Phyllis needs to move to some sort of a facility where she will be safe all of the time; her family has already begun investigating options. Today we had a wonderful time with our sweet cousin. My sister brought sandwiches and I splurged on dazzling cupcakes from Whole Foods; Phyllis introduced us to a delicious blueberry beverage. We ate and laughed and told jokes (some of them a bit on the colorful side) and remembered family times. We're already planning to do it again next month. And will continue as long as we can.
Just before we left, Phyllis -- who had always been closer to my sister than to me -- asked specifically, "Nancy, do you think people know when they are getting close to dying?" I said that I thought in some cases this was true. Her eyes filled up a bit as she told me, "I keep thinking about my Daddy and how I wish I could see him. I wonder if that is because I am close to dying." Mercifully, my instincts provided an answer: I told her, "I think you know there is something going wrong with your body and with your mind and you know that your Daddy would take care of you if he were here. I think you wish you had your Daddy to take care of you. I don't think it means you are going to die soon."
I hope I was right.