Mildred "Diddy" Haupt

My aunt is dying. She is 98. Born in 1913, September 23, 1913. She is unresponsive, sleeping, struggling to breathe. I don’t know how much of her unresponsiveness is due to the morphine she is being administered or due to the progression of the dying process. The skin on her legs and feet is mottled with purple flowers and her toenails are yellow. She no longer eats or drinks, her eyes no longer open and her tongue droops out of the side of her mouth. This bothers my mother. She is worried that my aunt will bite her tongue. The nurses attending to my aunt’s care assure my mother that there is nothing to be done, that my aunt’s muscle control has waned and that she is no longer able to control her tongue and that the patients in this time of dying do not typically bite their tongues and that if she does, they will pack her mouth with gauze to stop the bleeding and that will also help to keep her tongue inside her mouth. I don’t know that that explanation with the image of my beautiful aunt’s mouth stuffed with gauze was of comfort to my mother but she did begin to focus on other issues.

After I wrote the above on Mother’s Day, 2012, my sister, my cousin and my mother waited, kept vigil, and kept my mother and her last surviving sister company under the shadow of death, we told our dear Aunt Diddy, nee Mildred, that it was all right for her to go, that she didn’t need to hold onto this life. We told her that we loved her and kissed her hoping that she could hear us as she lay in this odd netherworld between living and dying.

All of us stepped out of the room for a brief walk in the garden and a break from sitting. When we came back from the few minutes break in our vigil, the room was different. There was a stillness, a color change to Diddy and we realized that she had gone. In spite of all our waiting, keeping her company, she left when we did. I believe she wanted to go as she lived, privately. One did not encumber others, one did not share unpleasantness with others and perhaps, she wanted death on her own terms. She always was an independent woman.

Diddy was the oldest of 4 girls. She was engaged to a man named Milton. Milton died sometime during the war years and as I understand it, Diddy never again came close to marriage. She attended a junior college and her family’s wealth had been devastated by the depression, just as she was embarking on adulthood. After college she went to work for the State of Pennsylvania. She worked in the human resources offices for the state and with her salary, supported her parents until their deaths. She and her sister, Betty Lee, secured a mortgage to purchase the house where Diddy and Betty Lee, lived with their parents. Betty Lee married and relinquished her ownership of the house. Diddy provided for her parents in her home until her parents’ deaths and until later when Diddy moved to the Highlands, assisted living complex. She provided for her retirement needs - carefully saved a considerable sum - due to her independence and hard work. She was tried and true; a woman of steady disposition, tireless good humor and few complaints. She was a voracious reader. She was someone with whom one could talk about anything and count on support not condemnation.

My mother was 4 months shy of 91 years old at the time of my aunt’s dying, a dying which would leave my mother husbandless (our father died in 2008), sisterless, motherless and fatherless. Her generation was nearly gone and we surmised that she wondered at her own mortality – something that was unmentionable, just as in our home we never talked about sex or underwear or when my father had fallen asleep and slammed their car into an overpass or even if they were ill. But we did talk that day, my sister and my cousin and I, about how my mother must feel, how losing Diddy would be losing my mother’s last link to her past, to her childhood, to her family and to her memories. She was beginning to show signs of her own failing memory and the loss of Diddy would be the loss of memory made tangible.

For the rest of us, losing Diddy was not just losing someone we loved dearly, this was also a loss of the past. All of my father’s brothers were gone and his parents had been gone for 50 years. My father’s sisters-in-law survive but immediate family has all passed. We are left to tend the memories, revive and record what we are able.

Jean McGavin
Bethlehem, CT © 2013

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