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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

In Which We Celebrate Life And Loss

Back in September, my siblings and I pulled off the greatest surprise EVER. Our beloved Big Mar was turning 95 on the 25th, and we decided to have a big party for her because SHE WAS GOING TO BE 95!!

You can't drag your feet on that shit.

Anyway, my ever-loving, thoughtful Geo declared my Mum's last remaining sister, Elsie should be, nay, NEEDED to be there to celebrate this incredible milestone with her big sister. When I called to ask my 92 year old Aunt if she would be willing to travel to Pittsburgh to surprise Big Mar, she immediately said yes and cried. She had been wracking her brain trying to figure out how she could get to see her sister for perhaps the last time. You see, the sisters Bossola talk to each other every week, but have only seen each other in person three times over the past 10 years, the last time being two years ago when we Pelino sisters took our Mum to Aunt Elsie's on a trip dubbed the Traveling Sisterhood.

the bond of sisterhood is strong with these two

When we left her standing at her back porch waving us goodbye as we drove away, we all felt the weight of the elephant in the room, or car, as it were. This might be the last time they would see each other. I have three sisters, and I can't even begin to fathom the idea that some day will be the last day I see any one of my siblings. How do you even process that? But at 93 and 90, respectively, that was their cold, hard reality.

So, we plotted and planned behind Big Mar's back to execute Operation: Surprise Big Mar. The plan was for me to secretly fly to Midway, get a car, drive west to Geneseo, pick up Aunt Elsie, drive back to Midway, fly to Pittsburgh and stow her at my sister's house until the next morning wherein Elsie would casually walk into my Mum's dining room for the big surprise.

For over a month, EVERYONE had strict orders NOT to slip up and give anything away to Big Mar. Every time I spoke to anyone in on our caper, I reiterated for them to KEEP THEIR GDAMN TRAP SHUT! Like, I-will-slice-you-in-two-if-you-spoil-this-thing level threats. Seriously, I will cause you un-fucking-fathomable harm if you spill it. Worked like a charm. Except for one person. The biggest asshat in the group--


GDammit, if I wasn't the one who blabbed to her. You know, all casual-like on the phone.

Big Mar: What should I make for dinner for everyone on Friday night? Should I make a big lasagne?

Asshat Child #5: Don't worry about dinner Friday, Mum. We're all going out and the cousins are taking you and Aunt Elsie out to dinner....
*punches self in face super fucking hard*

Big Mar: What, honey?

GinormoAsshat: Mish and Terri are taking you to dinner while we're out.
*sweet baby jesus! please say she didn't hear me*

Big Mar: Oh, okay. That will be nice.

Whew! So yeah, dodged that bullet. For once I was thankful for her compromised hearing.

The day finally came to retrieve my Aunt. It was one, long-ass day for me. I was gone from 4am to 10:30pm. I got to see a beautiful sunrise and sunset at Midway, and in between I got to spend some quality time with my vivacious, remarkable, spunky Aunt.

Good morning, Chicago sunrise!
where's my GD coffee

13 hours later...
i'm just going to close my eyes for a secon..zzzzz

you had one job antique shop. ONE.

We shopped, we ate, she told stories on our long drive back to the airport. And I gotta tell you, she was like the energizer bunny. At 92, she was keeping up with me pace for pace. She had no trouble climbing in and out of the shuttle or walking through the airport. I honestly kept forgetting she was 92! She was amazing! What a joy.

And then the next morning this happened...

Mission Accomplished

Wait. There's something wrong with my eye. Salty fluids keep gushing out.

I posted the video to the Interwebs immediately, as one does in the 21st century of self involvement (my new band name), which sent my social media peeps weeping. I mean, C'MON! How could anyone, whether you know these two women or not, not shed tears of happiness while watching their reunion?

Hooka, please! Pass the Kleenex.

two inspiring ladies

just two fabulous old broads catching up

The entire celebration weekend went off without a hitch. So much love, joy and laughter. Outside of our one cousin who recently moved to South Carolina, everyone on the Bossola side of the family got to visit with Elsie. We couldn't have asked for more.

And Big Mar...

she could not have been any happier, surrounded by all those she holds dear and who love her back, including her little sister.

Miss Datable
What! What!

the outrage is real, mofo

the golden girls

la familia

the entire rag-tag lot of us

Before you knew it, the weekend was over. Tearful, heartfelt goodbyes and lingering hugs were exchanged between the stoic sisters. Geo and I packed our dynamo of an aunt into our car and set off for Illinois.

traveling through land as flat as the Ohio "A"
oh, and corn 

oh hey, more corn

what a surprise...

We offered to break up the 600 mile journey into two days, but Aunt Elsie wouldn't hear of it. Over the course of 10 hours, passing corn field after corn field after corn field in the flat lands of America, Elsie regaled us with the story of her life. And what a life it was. Joining the Marines at 20, meeting and marrying her husband (a marine himself) within two week's time, living in Japan and California, and finally settling in her husband's quaint hometown of Geneseo, Illinois.

She had three passions: her husband, golf and ballroom dance. She and my uncle met at a military dance and basically never stopped. Dancing was there favorite pastime. They'd don their fanciest clothes, she'd put on her favorite heels, and off they'd go to swing, jitterbug and waltz the night away.

all dolled up for a night on the town

I mean, look at them. So stylish in their finery. They were so happy together. They were unable to have children, but they had each other. And a couple of cats to fawn over. Life was good.

there's always time to dance while the steaks are cooking
I adore this photo.
to me, this sums up their relationship

Geo and I had a blast tooling around the boutiques, tchotchke shops and artist markets of Geneseo with my Aunt. Everywhere we went, Aunt Elsie told the clerks how we took her to Pittsburgh for her sister's birthday. She gushed about the party and her visit to everyone who would listen. I gotta tell you, it felt good having brought her so much joy with our little birthday scheme. Our spirits were as lifted as hers.

The next morning, after a full farmer's breakfast, many tears were shed by all three of us as we hugged and kissed goodbye.

with Miss Spunk, 2016

a tearful goodbye 

The last image we have of Aunt Elsie is her arm waving to us out of the window of her sparkling, white 25 year old Chrysler as we embarked on our long journey east.

And now she's gone.

And now this gets really difficult to write.

Less than two months after Big Mar's party, Aunt Elsie was hospitalized for congestive heart failure. She was retaining fluid around her heart. When we traveled to Pittsburgh in September, she and I talked at length about her need for valve replacement surgery similar to the one my Mum had the prior December. The surgery had improved Big Mar's life tremendously. There was no reason why my hail and hearty Aunt would not have a positive outcome as well.

But Life had other plans.

For the first time ever, she was tied to oxygen and a walker to get around. A quick succession of falls took away her courage and independence. Too fearful to stay in her house, she moved into an assisted living facility with the intention of moving into an apartment once she recovered from her valve replacement.

But she never got strong enough physically to have her surgery.

By mid-December, she decided she had enough of hospitals and needles and being bed-ridden, and chose to call it a day. She was ready to wrap up her life and go be with her husband again. As much as I didn't want her to stop fighting, I gotta respect her decision. She stepped off this mortal coil on her own terms. There's some comfort knowing we all have a modicum of control when it comes to the end of our time on this crazy planet. My sisters and I were able to talk to her on the phone and tell her we loved her the day before she died. Big Mar never got through to her for one last chat. I don't know. Perhaps it's best that way. She gets to remember her voice strong and feisty.

I still can't wrap my head around her death. The rapid decline of a woman so vivacious, vital and healthy is unimaginable to me. For Christ's sake, at 92 years old she was still washing her windows and walls twice a year!! Her trip in September is made all the more precious by her absence now. Her visit was a gift to us all. She accomplished what she set out to do, that is, spend time with her family and big sister one last time. Maybe that's why she cried when Geo and I left her in September. Maybe subconsciously she knew that was our swan song.

None of us were able to make the trek west for her funeral. The weather was too unsettled and there was no way we were going to risk Big Mar's health in the vast mid-west winter. To be honest, I didn't want to go. I want to hang on to the memory of my spirited aunt from her September visit and replay the above video over and over again.

I'm going to miss my vibrant Aunt. We were just getting to know each other better. Life is a right-royal bitch sometimes, but you know what? I'm happy for her. She lived a rich, full life chock-full of love, laughter and friendship. And now she's back with her beloved husband; young and beautiful and dancing her heart out in her favorite high heels.

Godspeed, Aunt Elsie. The grace with which you lived your life, especially the latter part is an inspiration. May your dance hall never close.

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