Orchid blooms can last a good while, but when the first one wilts and drops, its siblings drop soon afterward, as if in sympathy. So it seems with George's sister Linda, his Aunt Doris, and now his Aunt Ione. Or perhaps, somehow, his aunts were just hanging on, waiting to see Linda off first, before going to join her.
I only got to meet Aunt Ione once, and even that was but a glimpse of her. Advanced Alzheimers had already taken much of her mind away before I had a chance to meet her. I had known of her through George's fond memories. He'd always felt close to his mother's sister, and her husband Uncle Guy, and had even lived with them for a while when he attended Loma Linda University. So a couple of Christmases ago, on the long drive home from his parents, we made a detour to visit Aunt Ione. George's cousin Kathy, Ione's daughter, cautioned us not to expect too much. Kathy said that some days her mother recognized her, and some days she didn't. Some days she could be upbeat, while other days she could be sullen. With our expectations sufficiently adjusted, we truly lucked out and had a wonderful visit.
Aunt Ione recognized "Georgie" (as he is known in the family), and positively beamed to see him. Her great affection for him shone through in a big smile that not only lit up the room, but warmed it too. She chatted away jovially, asking about George, and warmly meeting me. Her social personality was apparent, and I could tell she was someone who loved people, and who earnestly meant it when she said she was delighted to meet you. She was inquisitive and enjoyed a little banter and good-natured teasing, which was charming. And she still demonstrated the inexorable motherly desire to see all young men get married off, as she cajoled us with variations on the "are you married? do you have a girlfriend?" theme. (We appreciated her good intentions, and saw no point in confusing her with honest answers to those questions.)
Within a few minutes, it was evident how much the Alzheimers had taken from her. She would ask us things she'd just asked a few moments ago as if for the first time. And many of her memories were lost or fuzzy. But it was also clear that pieces of her personality were still in her, and I feel that a got a real glimpse of the sweet wonderful woman that she was. The best part of our visit, a memory we'll always treasure, came as we were leaving. Amidst goodbyes, she said "I love you, Georgie" several times, and she turned to me and said "I don't really know you, but I think I could love you too."
Aunt Ione, I didn't really get to know you, but I'm sure I could love you too.