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Reflections December 2014

All Happy Together!

By Jim Cotsana

During these dinners out, she would reminisce about her childhood and how she met her husband. Sometimes, when she had a second drink, I got “too much information” about her relationship with her husband. She was never one to hold back no matter what the topic was.

As was tradition during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday dinners, their children, grandchildren, and later their great-grandchildren gathered in the dining room, holding hands in a circle around the large table. Her husband would start and turn to her and say “I’m happy, are you happy?” She would ask the same of the person to her right and so on until the last person in the circle would turn to the originator and, on cue, everyone would say “We are all happy together!” This was the standard for years, but unfortunately, this would be the last time this would occur in the home of the family matriarch who passed away at the age of 93.

I knew her since I was 15 years old. Her son and I became best friends in high school and I spent most of my time at their home. It’s a rather long story, but because of my close relationship with her son and spending a great deal of time at their home, she and her husband became my legal guardians when I turned 16. They were truly parents to me.

From that time on, they provided me with not only a loving home but signed me up for driving lessons, created the great times we had during the holidays, and even helped me through college.

I left to be on my own when I finished college and joined the military in 1970 but always stayed in very close touch and visited when I could since this was really home. Unfortunately, her husband passed away in 1997 and her son, my best friend, died in 2003, both from cancer.

After I retired in 2008, after nearly 30 years of government service, I moved back to my hometown and spent a great deal of time with her, visiting almost every day. She was pretty active at 87. Even though she still had her driver’s license, I would take her shopping, to the hairdresser, doctor’s appointments, and out to dinner – which was her favorite thing. She thoroughly enjoyed her Gray Goose vodka on the rocks with a twist of lemon. During these dinners out, she would reminisce about her childhood and how she met her husband. Sometimes, when she had a second drink, I got “too much information” about her relationship with her husband. She was never one to hold back no matter what the topic was.

During the last two years, her motor skills and attention level began to noticeably decline and she no longer drove. However, she did tell me that just for fun, she would back her car out of the garage and drive it back in. I didn’t notice any new scratches.

During this past year, her health steadily declined and she no longer had any interest in going out to dinner nor did she request her nightly drink. She was fortunate in that she was financially comfortable and, with the help of her daughters, me, and a local provider service, was able to have around the clock home care. She wanted to stay in her home with all the familiar surroundings rather than being in a nursing home. At first, she was not in favor of this because she cherished her independence and complained that people were around all the time. However, she would also complain if she was alone for any length of time. During the last few weeks of her life, she just lay in bed taking in very little food and liquid. She was able to hear me but spoke very little and when she did speak, it didn’t make much sense. She finally died at the age of 93 with her dignity intact. It was time.

The day of the funeral started off cloudy but soon the sun came out along with a slight, calming breeze. It was a private ceremony with only family, but the memorial service after the funeral was packed – she had lived a very productive and full life. After the funeral service, there was a reception at a downtown restaurant, again packed with people. Once this concluded, family members gathered in her home for one last get together to say good-bye. Throughout her life, she gave many parties and always served a variety of appetizers but always included a large plate of shrimp and those cheddar cheese goldfish crackers. Hence, this had to be on the menu.

It was both a sad moment and one of joyful remembrance for those of us who grew up in this house. We did a final “All Happy Together” in her home and the tradition would not be forgotten but carried on by the families of her children and grandchildren where she will always be remembered in their respective homes.

 

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