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Aunt Dot’s Last Christmas Gift

With Aunt Dot‘s passing earlier this year went the crazy gifts we received every Christmas. If you don’t know about Aunt Dot, read the archives – it’s a laugh. The last gift she gave us was on Labor Day, when she brought a plastic shopping bag containing stale rainbow Goldfish for Cordy and a ceramic piggy bank and first tooth holder for Mira. And stale cashews for me. A typical Aunt Dot gift.

However, when my mother and aunts were cleaning out Aunt Dot’s apartment, they found something that was clearly intended for us this Christmas. While there was no name on it, we all knew this item was planned for an appearance at my house on December 25. It had been placed carefully in the guest bedroom, where she kept all of her Christmas gifts, waiting for the right sized shopping bag to ferry it to one of my daughters.

And so when my mother started unpacking all of the gifts she brought, Aunt Dot’s contribution showed up as well. While we were unwrapping gifts, I placed this gem in the middle of the floor and turned it on. Suddenly, Aunt Dot was with us, at least in spirit, and we all laughed.

Here is Aunt Dot’s last gift. I had no idea reindeer had cheeks on their noses, and I’m still not sure why it decided to dress like grandma and sit in her rocking chair. A motive for the killing, maybe? I think we’ll keep it around and play it every Christmas in her memory.

Aunt Dot

Ah yes, my great aunt, Dot. You’ve read stories about her, rolled your eyes with me when discussing her gifts, and fumed in unison over her taunting Cordy. But today, this post isn’t about her antics, it’s about her.

On Monday or Tuesday, we’re not sure which, Aunt Dot fell in her apartment. She lives by herself, and although she has one of those Life Alert “help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” necklaces, she wasn’t wearing it. She wasn’t discovered until mid-day on Wednesday, and she couldn’t remember how long she had been on the floor. An evening in the emergency room resulted in the relief of finding no broken bones, but they did find she had a bladder infection and pneumonia, and her recently developed diabetes was out of control. She was admitted to the hospital.

Thursday and Friday involved a lot of tests. Her right carotid artery (the one that supplies blood to your head) is totally blocked, but we knew this. Her left carotid artery (that’s been doing the work for both of them) was discovered to be partially blocked. We thought that was probably the worst of the news, and she would likely need to move to assisted living from now on to ensure someone was nearby in case she fell again.

But it got worse.

Turns out the dark shadows the lung x-rays picked up were pneumonia, at least on the right side. The left side, though, was a tumor, encompassing all of the upper part of her left lung. They needed to do a biopsy to determine if it was malignant or not.

Today they did the procedure, but it didn’t go well. While lightly sedated, Aunt Dot stopped breathing. The medical team quickly got a tube down her throat and hooked her up to a respirator. She was then moved to ICU.

The doctor told us he’s 99% sure it’s malignant, and this lung cancer is starting to grow into her bronchioles. It can’t be treated, because the treatment alone would kill her. If she didn’t have all of these other problems, he’d give her 6 months to a year to live. But with all of her other health problems, including emphysema, she has at best 3-6 months, but could die any day. How this giant tumor had been missed by her primary doctor at her regular doctor’s visits is baffling to me.

I saw Aunt Dot briefly today after the biopsy procedure. She was semi-conscious and fighting the tube in her throat, so they had to fully sedate her again. It was hard to see her like this. Yes, she’s been a pain to me my entire life, but she’s still family. She’s my grandmother’s sister. That tough old woman, who was very intimidating to me as a child, looked so tiny and frail in that hospital bed. I stood by her side, watching her squirm and twist in a half-daze, and I didn’t know what to say. I finally reached out, touched her hand and said, “It’s OK, Aunt Dot. We’re here, and you’ll be fine.” Somewhere through the haze, I think she heard me, because for a moment she calmed down. The part about being fine wasn’t true, but it was all I could think of in that moment.

In the morning, the medical team will try to remove the tube. If she can breathe on her own, she’ll be moved out of ICU and eventually to a nursing home. If she can’t, they’ll give her 24 hours more and try again. She has a DNR order, so if a second try wouldn’t work, we would let her pass without any further intervention.

While I don’t want the last days of her life to be drawn out and painful, I do hope she will regain consciousness and will be given the time to put everything in order before she dies. I wouldn’t mind having a little more time to talk to her, too. One of my aunts told me today that Aunt Dot was so happy that I visited her on Thursday, bringing Mira with me. The entire reason I visited her today was to bring Mira to her to lift her spirits again, but I arrived right when she had stopped breathing. I hope she can see Mira at least one more time.

And I can’t believe I’m writing this, but I’m finding myself a little sad that Christmas just won’t be the same this year without another damn nutcracker and a bag of stale cashews.

Christmas Gift Hall of Shame

On Christmas night, after everyone was gone, the wrapping paper bagged up, and the kids put to bed, I (of course) went to Twitter to see how everyone else spent the day. I found myself quickly reading through a hilarious list of worst gifts of the year. Some were embarrassing, some were funny, some were just plain odd.

And then I realized I had nothing to contribute.

We had a really good Christmas this year. We saw a lot of family, had a great meal, gave some fun gifts to everyone, and received some really nice gifts in return.

Quick tangent: Cordy even handled the day better than she ever has. When the room got too loud, I noticed her slowly pushing herself deeper into the sofa cushions, as if she was trying to disappear entirely. A few family members drew attention to her, and she closed her eyes to block it all out as I reminded them that this was her way of coping with the sensory overload, and it was best to not engage her at that time.

Soon she had had enough and quietly slipped upstairs to her room. When I went up to check on her, she told me that she went to her room because she needed some quiet time. Wow…I’ll gladly accept that response to being overloaded rather than her previous response of having a massive meltdown. And after a little while, she came downstairs again, ready to join in and play with her toys some more.

OK, back to the story: Both Cordy and Mira had several fun toys and books to choose from, and Aaron and I received gift cards to several of our favorite places. There was no gift Hall of Shame, no WTF gift of 2010. I found myself a little sad about that fact.

In the past, we could always count on my Great Aunt Dot to provide some weird, off-the-wall gift that she purchased on the 90% off rack at Macy’s for Christmas. Sometimes it was a tin of stale, outdated¬†cashews, or a bunny that said “Happy Easter” when you pressed it’s ear. Sometimes it was a bag of toilet paper with one roll missing from the pack or some gaudy piece of costume jewelry with the price tag still clearly attached, red lines showing the markdowns. Sometimes it was a map of Millersburg, Ohio with no explanation.

As a kid I hated opening all the weird stuff from her. I didn’t even like her all that much – she was mean and liked to tease me. Later I learned to laugh it off and remember it’s the thought that counts, and as an adult I understood that the teasing and the gruff exterior were how she dealt with a lifetime of disappointment. She died just over two years ago, and since then Christmas gifts have never been the same at our house.

So this year I once again pulled out one of her last gifts for Cordy and played it for everyone just before we sat down to eat. (Thankfully, Cordy isn’t scared of it anymore.)

Aunt Dot’s Gift from Christina M on Vimeo.

A family friend who joined us this year looked at it and said, “Shouldn’t you take the price tag off that?”

“Of course not,” we replied,¬†“That’s just how Aunt Dot gave it!”

We may no longer have her with us, but when we see that deer (moose?) in a bathrobe singing “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” while it rocks in the chair, it’s like Aunt Dot is still celebrating with us in spirit.

Whatever Happened To…

I’ve had a few questions lately from some of you, asking for updates on past posts. I feel like I needed to do a recap post – sort of like those “Where are they now?” shows that Maury Povich does every now and then, seeing how past guests are doing since the show.

So without further ado, let me bring back some of the past guests of this blog to see what they’re up to now.

The sentient trash can – Several people want to know what our trash can has been up to. I took the advice many of you offered and set up a Trashcam in the upstairs window for the last two weeks. However, I am sad to report that the trash can has lost its will to move. No movement at all in the past two weeks. Maybe it knew it was being watched, and like a ghost only performs when no one is looking? If it moves again, I may be calling in TAPS.

The surprise kittens – Our guest room is still overrun with a family of cats. Only they’re not so small now, and they’re getting into everything. It’s adoption week here, and I hope that by the end of the week, most of them will be gone. The good news is that four of five kittens have found homes, and the fifth may have a home. They’re all good matches, and I think they will all live spoiled lives. Which is better than how they started, out in Cordy’s play barn with an undernourished mama. Mama cat really doesn’t like being inside, and so next week she will be spayed and introduced to her new home on my mother’s farm.

A couple of recent photos:

Mira’s teeth – You’re all brilliant, you know that? Thanks to your advice and links and stories, I have survived two days with only a few minor bites. I now know I have to be vigilant to watch for signs she’s preparing to bite. No more commenting on posts while she nurses, I guess. Switching positions helped take the pressure off of the gashes, too. And I’ve been praising her when she lets go without biting. She likes the positive attention, although it isn’t as funny as mommy screaming. Dark days may be on the horizon, though – tonight she was inconsolable and rubbing her upper gums. I think her top teeth are starting their descent. My nipple may soon be surrounded by sharp spears.

Aunt Dot – She may be gone, but her crazy gifts live on. Cleaning out her apartment has been a monumental task for my family. The woman had a lot of junk. A lot. My mom says she found something so perfectly Aunt Dot that she plans to hide it away and bring it out at Christmas. I’m excited to see what it is, which is wrong on so many levels.

A huge number of you – To all of you participating in NaBloToGoSoBananaFanaFoMo or whatever it is, good luck! I will not be joining you, because I can’t even find time to shower daily. And if I have to choose between posting and showering, well… I know you’d appreciate my choice if you had to be near me. And please, for the love of those of us who have trouble keeping up with our reading this month, write at least a few short posts, OK?

I think that covers most of the updates. If there’s still something you must know more about, leave me a comment and I’ll give you the latest update. If there’s anything to update, of course. On the next show, we’ll have lie detector test results, guests’ best secrets revealed, and a few of the “I was a geek, but look at me now!” guests.

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