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Packing Up Auntie



In a far, far away corner of Europe lies Auntie.


She has been placed in a government home, where she lies afflicted with the prolonged and self-determined inactivity of old age. She is fed lying flat-out horizontally by the same members of the skilled staff that attend to all her other bodily needs.


Once upon a time, she willingly managed to sit up with the help of her mechanical bed. She still manages to watch some television. At least her eyes stare at the screen. It is difficult to discover any of the details regarding her affair with the television set.


Auntie is still in possession of a home. Perhaps it is more accurate to just call it a house at this rather inactive point in her otherwise fruitful and productive life.

Auntie doesn’t have a husband any longer. She never had children. Thus, she has a guardian appointed by the state to look after her interests. He contacts her multiple next-of-kin. Something must be done with the house and all that stuff so that 

Auntie can be comfortable.


What to do. What to do.


While she has many living siblings, few volunteer to help as nearly all of them have their own families to nurture and lovingly care for. However, two of Auntie’s sisters are keenly interested in the endeavor. Each comes equipped with a daughter endowed with a Type-A personality to organize said project.


But first, the four (two sisters, two nieces) visit Auntie. For thirty-two minutes, exactly. The time is limited because Auntie, flat on her back, doesn’t recognize anyone in the group. She wanders in and out of sleep. The nieces decide that an early departure from the planned hour-long visit won’t hurt anyone. In fact, it puts them ahead of schedule for packing.


Auntie was a hoarder, especially in the years leading up to her internment within the government home. She lost alertness and mobility at an alarming pace during her last three years at home. The packers find balls of tightly wound yarn shoved into a dozen different cabinets, drawers, and closets around the house. Family heirlooms are scattered about here and there among other items; cardboard boxes filled with fading ladies’ magazines, scraps of wrapping paper (butcher and holiday), assorted plastic containers, newspapers (standard and tabloid) and… so forth.


There are clocks, clothes, lamps, beds, envelopes, magazines, chairs, silverware, shampoos, lotions, books, and birdseed to contend with, just during the first half hour of entering the house.


It also turns out the lone toilet hasn’t been flushed since Auntie left it full. There is something resembling moldy meatballs in the fridge.


A return to the heirlooms. The state-appointed guardian has presented a list wherein it is specified what is to be recycled and what is to be placed in storage. This is carefully explained to the sisters by their daughters, list and pens in hand. 


The sisters carefully explain that family heirlooms are not to be placed in storage as they are too important to be distributed to the entire family should such a day arise. Anything could happen to them and they would be lost, affecting the joy of the entire family. The sisters have deemed it important to ensure that these valuable objects should be kept in safe keeping for perpetuity. And they feel that they should shoulder the responsibility. 


The two of them then proceed to indicate which of Auntie’s items will be transported back to their homes upon departure with the help of a yellow sticky pad.  


After several days of work, Auntie is packed. A realtor puts up a for-sale sign. Most of the stuff is sold or given away to charity. Several valuable artifacts are transported according to the guardian’s guidance. The guardian says that, without a will and no mental capacity to make one now, the law will ultimately decide what happens to the items in storage.


Alas, Auntie herself packs up and departs within a few short weeks of her worldly possessions. Her siblings are informed that the passing was peaceful. No one can really be sure. The television set was operating when her physical state was discovered, providing hope that Auntie was comforted during her final moments.


The day of the funeral is clear, sunny, and warm. Thirty-five show up. Plus, the minister and groundskeeper.


The minister says words. The organist leads with a hymn. Few follow his lead. Family representatives carry flowers to the service site. They stand holding cards. They speak (or mumble) names. The minister says words. The groundskeeper opens the double doors while summoning the six pallbearers. One gets cold feet and is immediately replaced by one of the Type-A nieces who had included this eventuality in her list of things that could go wrong. The coffin is set down on artificial grass and encircled with flowers. The organist sings. The minister speaks. The coffin is lowered. The coffin (lowered) is covered with flowers. The minister speaks again. Bells ring.


It’s time to eat. The buffet line forms. People ingest salad, potatoes, and meatballs. The plates are cleared. Coffee is served, and it’s over. People gather together for the obligatory moment. The polite, subdued claims-to-things begin. Copper tea kettles are discussed. Pictures. Tablecloths. Jewelry. Knickknacks. Cutlery. Dishes. Utensils. Books.


It all concludes with a visit to the church toilet before everyone heads home.


Auntie’s possessions, and then Auntie herself: Everything to be packed has been packed.


It’s done, finished.


Except that no one thought to order a headstone for Auntie.

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