A Wabi Sabi Peaceful Transition

Fun and full of life, my Aunt Pearl was always one of my favorite people. Whenever I would call her she would explode with enthusiasm as if hearing from me was like winning the lottery!

Perpetually cheerful and optimistic, Aunt Pearl had a ton of interests and we nicknamed her the “Culture Queen.” Six nights a week she was out on the town. She loved politics, opera, symphony, theatre, her friends, reading (anything by Tom Friedman was a favorite), traveling, the Miami Dolphins and her job as an assistant to an attorney with a busy practice.

She had married in her twenties only to have her husband killed in a robbery six months after the wedding. She never remarried or had children but she was easily one of the happiest people I’ve ever met.

Ten years ago, in August 2001, for her 80th birthday my brother, sister and I (and several other family members) took her to Aspen, Colorado for the annual music festival. We attended daily concerts, took hikes in the mountains, and sampled the local restaurants. It was a magical time.

A few months later she thought she had the flu. She hadn’t been feeling well and she had noticed that she had been losing a lot of weight. This was something she was very pleased about since she had been dieting most of her life. She went to the doctor and received devastating news. She had pancreatic cancer and was told she had three months or less to live.

Two months earlier we had buried our stepfather of the same disease. We knew what she was in for. It was impossible to believe.

We all took turns flying to Miami Beach to visit with Aunt Pearl and in true form she was still upbeat despite her reality. She began making plans for her funeral and burial. She put her affairs in order, gave me instructions on how to get into her safety deposit box, and lists of who was to get what. This included detailed instructions about the clothes she wanted to be buried in. Because of the weight loss she was finally able to fit into a beautiful gold evening gown that she hadn’t worn in over thirty years.

Before her final trip into the hospital she had taken the gown out and hung it on her bedroom door and carefully placed the matching shoes and handbag on the floor where the gown was hanging.

Aunt Pearl had a tiny size foot, size 5, and a huge appetite for shoes… she had quite a collection. I don’t think she ever threw out a pair!

When our cousin Sara, who also wears a size 5, came for a visit, Aunt Pearl immediately gave Sara the keys to her condo telling her that all of her shoes were now her inheritance.

One Sunday afternoon I was sitting next to her hospital bed and she decided it was time to let her friends know that the end was near. She took out her little black address book and for the next few hours I listened as she called her friends, one by one.

With each friend she shared with them what she loved best about them and her fondest memories of their time together. She encouraged them not to be sad and told them that they would be together again some day on the other side. I never heard any sadness, or self-pity, just pure classic upbeat, optimistic, look-for-the-good-in-everything Aunt Pearl.

The next week she moved into hospice. The one thing she wanted to do every day was to watch her favorite film, Moonstruck starring Cher and Nicholas Cage.

The film is about a beautiful, young widow (played by Cher) who has a passion for opera and finds true love again. Aunt Pearl saw herself as Cher and never tired of the story.

During this entire process I never once heard her complain. She was gracious, and thankful for the caring nurses and content to be surrounded by family and friends. On the last morning of her life she asked me to get her an Advil. She said she was in a bit of pain.

I went to find the hospice nurse who informed my that for the past two weeks Aunt Pearl had been on high dose morphine patches and that an Advil was not going to help her, but they would give her more morphine to ease her pain.

Aunt Pearl passed away peacefully later that day. My brother went to her condo to pick up the gold evening gown and other things needed for her burial.

He called to tell me the shoes were missing.

He had looked everywhere but couldn’t find a single pair of shoes, especially the matching gold ones. That’s when we remembered that cousin Sara had taken all of them.

Fortunately we were able to have the shoes Fed Ex’ed to us and Aunt Pearl was buried exactly as she had planned. Dressed as the culture Queen she was and surrounded by the ones who loved her most.

Today is the 10th anniversary of her passing and I am pretty sure she has big plans to attend a gala event somewhere on the other side.

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