This past weekend, we laid our aunt to rest.
I’ve always been a stickler on claiming people as “such and such” if they aren’t actually whatever title you put on them.
I’d call Kathy my “aunt” but technically she was Dean’s.
She was one of those gals that I could and did talk to for hours most weeks.
She never married or had her own kids, so we had an extra mom/aunt.
We spent so many hours as she’d say, “settling the world’s problems, and somehow there was either a ton of problems to be settled or we just liked to talk to each other. I think it was the latter.
She was a military gal, saying that now, I realize that’s an understatement. She was a Lieutenant Colonel, and was a no nonsense gal.
I found out that the only good thing about someone in your family having cancer is that you understand quickly that you don’t have much time left with them.
Now Kathy was one of these gals that was tough.
She never asked for anything from anyone.
So when she called us last spring and in a weak voice asked, “Can you come?” I didn’t need an explanation, I simply told her, “Yes, we’ll be there as soon as we can!”
We found out a few days later that she had cancer, again. She had beat it 7 years earlier, but it had returned. We spent a couple months with her, unsure that she’d come home that time, but she did.
We were able to get her through half of her chemo that trip, but had to return home, and it was time.
When you have house guests for 2 months in your home, it’s fine if you need some help, but when you’re feeling better it’s time for them to go, so we did.
Things were going relatively well for her this last year, she had been on a chemo drug since this episode and had been responding really well to the drug, but she had also made it clear that she was not going to be doing all sorts of interventions to prolong her life.
It was clear to us then, and as we made our last trip down to see her, we knew that this was it.
I had just had a phone call from her, of course, the week before. I didn’t answer in time so I still have her voice mail that said, “Valerie, I just wanted to let you know that the nurse said that I ‘look good on paper’. I’m not sure what that means. I think it was supposed to be a compliment…” I of course HAD to call her back right away. She was just full of laughter and concluded that perhaps it was time to visit the beauty shop.
She was that kind of gal.
She had said that a cancer diagnosis was like a kick in the gut, and that it takes your breath away, and I can only imagine that it’s true, it felt that way for us too.
But this gal decided that if she had to go out, she was going to do it on her terms.
It wasn’t going to be a sad event. Like she said, “I’ve seen the world, I’ve had a good life, there isn’t anything else that I wanted to do that I didn’t get to do.”
So she spent the last year of her life mailing out cards to other military nurses that had become ill or may have needed a word of encouragement.
She has a stack of cards and stamps for this purpose alone.
Her eyesight had also been giving her problems with macular degeneration to cataracts. She had the cataracts removed, and had JUST gotten the okay to start driving again the week that she died. So she did. She took her baby, her 2002 Lexus, out of the garage and drove through the neighborhood, and then came back to her driveway and just let the car run for a while before tucking it back in the garage.
There were 3 things she had a passion for. Her family, the military and her car.
Now she didn’t want just ANY car. It had to be a baby blue Lexus.
The last time she she bought a car she had special ordered it from Germany, just so she could get that baby blue color on it.
The dealership explained that it would be a 3 month wait, but she didn’t care, baby blue was that important to her. So she ordered the car and has babied that baby blue for the last 16 years.
She took that car in for a check up every 6 months whether it needed it or not.
When I started it up to bring it home, it said the average speed on that car was 22.5 miles an hour. The poor thing I’m sure went into shock when I hit the interstate.
It’s never seen mud like the mud on our road before.
I’m sure it’s crying in the driveway in this Iowa weather. It’s never seen snow, until now.
But of course it purred all the way home as it brought some of Kathy’s treasures to our house.
Her treasures were of course her military citations, her uniform, and photos from her life as a military nurse.
She had originally said, “I want to be buried in my uniform.” So we made a trip to the base, where all the kids snapped sharp salutes to her, and we took her DD214 to find all the appropriate medals that she needed. We went home, and because her eyesight wasn’t the greatest, I had the chance to help her get the leaves attached to the right bar before slipping them in place, and share in that experience of getting her uniform “ready”.
When we had the uniform complete, she held it up for inspection, turning it around and checking everything on it and declared that it was ready.
Then she looked at it again and said, “If you would rather keep it than bury it with me, you can.”
She may have been retired, but that uniform made her feel 20 again.
I realized then that it made her stand a little bit taller, and made her again feel proud of all that she had done.
We laid her to rest this weekend, without the uniform, but in some baby bluish clothes, in an Air Force flag draped casket, carried to the cemetery in a hearse bearing the Air Force emblem, following a Patriot Guard truck waving her Air Force Flag, and we placed her above her Air Force Vault via Air Force pall bearers.
She would have been so proud.
When she wanted to make a point, she’d always preface it by saying, “Now listen…” and I think she would have probably said something like, “Now listen, you didn’t need to go to all that bother, but I’m glad you did.”