Many of us were moved by Esther Hastings Miller's story in this blog on June 12, 2012, about her aunt with Alzheimer's. Entitled “Heartspoken,” it spoke beautifully and poignantly about the heartache of losing someone to this insidious disease. Esther has recently shared this photo of her with Anna and a follow-up story about Anna's sweet and peaceful last days on earth:
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Six months after my previous visit, my husband and I returned to see my Aunt Anna in assisted living. He hadn’t seen her since her 80th birthday party five years before and was saddened to see how much she had changed.
The curvature in her back hadn’t been noticeable when younger muscles supported the joints but now weakness and inactivity deformed her body. Her voice nearly failed and her ready laughter was long gone. The struggle for words to convey a thought was no longer worth the effort and she showed no light of recognition at the sight of either of us.
She ate her dinner slowly and methodically, still able to feed herself, but the task required her full attention. Most of the time she seemed unable to even acknowledge our presence, so we didn’t stay long and left in a somber mood.
We took a long drive through the beautiful hill country and revived our spirits, then returned the next day for another visit. This time she was in her room, comfortable in her big chair, and she made an effort to visit. Her responses were few, eye contact little, and there were only rare glimpses of the dear lady we had loved so much. But my husband was heartened and felt that this, at least, was a visit…we had made some contact.
Winter was drawing to an end and we were a long way from home, so we started heading east the next day. A day or so later we got word she was ill and had been taken to the hospital adjacent to the facility where she lived. We slowed our trip and waited to hear whether we needed to head west again. At first she made progress, so we picked up our pace, then five miles from home, the call came.
She had awakened a couple of afternoons before and recognized my cousin. Though he had visited regularly, she had not always known him. This time she spoke clearly, looked in his eyes and told him she was ready to die. He told her it was OK and she slipped back into her morphine-induced sleep. A day or two later she drew her last breath, at peace and in no pain.
We took comfort in her final words, spoken from her heart to his. She lives on in all of us, the family she loved, who loved her as long as we could.
Esther Hastings Miller
Esther is a writer, gardener, and amateur radio operator in the Shenandoah Valley.