I wrote this story a few years ago, after my family and I helped move my beloved great aunt Holly into a nursing home. I was so pleased when my friend Adrian Hale, the writer and editor behind the Communal Table, asked if I'd consider publishing it in her Age issue.
My hope is that it will serve as a resource for other families who have elderly relatives living on their own in big cities.
It was early June, and I had just returned to my cubicle from a lengthy editorial meeting. I had dozens of new e-mails, a pile of manuscripts to go through, and five voice mail messages. I sighed. My phone rang. It was Ed, my cousin.
“Holly had a fall last night. She’s OK, but she’s in the hospital,” he said. He gave me a second to let the news sink in. “It was so odd,” he continued. “I went out to move my car last night, which I’d parked near her apartment. I saw an ambulance at the door of her building and thought, ‘What are the chances?’”
Holly was Ed’s aunt, his mother’s eldest remaining sister. She was 86 and still lived by herself in the same rent-controlled apartment she’d been in since I was five. Holly had no children of her own—so Ed and I, her only relatives in the city, had been keeping close tabs on her. Only Ed, who lived just ten blocks south, bore the brunt of this responsibility, since I lived in Brooklyn—an hour-long subway-ride away. Still, I often made the trip. Holly had long been one of my favorite great aunts—and when I moved to New York City in 1995, we grew even closer, seeing movies, having dinner at the Cottage (her neighborhood Chinese restaurant), or hitting the museums at least once a month.
When I asked how she’d fallen, Ed told me she’d tripped over the Moroccan coffee-table on her way to the bathroom. This ornate copper table was nowhere near the bathroom, but I let that slide. Holly, I knew, was prone to midnight ice-cream raids. She probably stumbled over it on her way to the kitchen.
Though she didn’t break anything, Holly sustained a few bruises and was rattled enough to call 911. The EMT guys must’ve taken her down the elevator in her bathrobe. As they were lifting her into the ambulance, Ed rounded the corner. He jumped in and rode with her to the hospital.
Now, on the phone, Ed gave me Holly’s room number, saying she’d only be at the hospital for a few days. What he didn’t say was something neither of us wanted to talk about: Holly couldn’t live on her own anymore.
Continue reading here.