I was determined to start up posting here in the New Year. However, my karma went in another direction. My sister (who shall remain anonymous, but who I will call Leslie) called me on December 28 last year and announced she had advanced metastatic pancreatic cancer. She wanted me to come be with her in the city where she lives, so I understood, until she died.
Leslie’s husband had died in August last year, also from cancer. She had never lived alone—she married while she still was living at home with our parents and then had been happily married for over forty years. ‘Happily married’ in this case is not a trite phrase—I don’t know a couple who was more happily married until death did them part.
We had been having weekly conversations while she adjusted to the death of her husband because I worried about her getting depressed being on her own. I was delighted when she told me after a few months, a little guiltily, that she was amazed and overjoyed at the total freedom she had to do whatever she wanted, and more time to do it in. She had discovered the joys of living alone! Didn’t surprise me, of course, since I am a committed Live-Aloner (a term invented by the pioneer Live-Aloner Marjorie Hillis—more on her in a future post).
When Leslie called me in December she had been given weeks to live. I packed some funeral clothes and got on a plane west. However, my sister surprised everyone. She chose to have chemotherapy that had only a 50% chance of any effectiveness and was predicted to have some horrific possible side effects. To date, she has suffered only extreme fatigue and that only part of the time. The chemotherapy seems to be beating back the cancer enough that she still has no pain that one Tylenol can’t handle. She stayed on the board of her church, has not let go of the reins of her maintenance and landscaping committees, goes out to lunch with friends, gardens devotedly, and continues to make egregiously bad puns at every opportunity. And we are having a great time talking over tea every day.
What does this have to do with Living Alone and Loving It? When I arrived, she sat me down and told me she didn’t want me to move into her small one-bedroom apartment with her. And she had a plan in place to move into a nursing home with hospice care when she could no longer take care of herself. Until then she wanted to live alone. I should get my own place if I stuck around, which she still wanted me to do.
I thought at first this was a Herculean act of generosity towards me since she knows I am a Live-Aloner, but she said that it was what she preferred, too. She and I both know I would not make the most patient of caregivers, but that was not the problem, although she did want professional care at the end. She simply wanted her own place and even told me she was not in any way bothered by dying alone if I happened to not be there.
So the question is: why does my sister, who never in her 69 years of life ever lived alone, want to do so now? Because fate forced her to live alone and she ended up loving it. Or, alternatively, perhaps it’s genetics. We share (perhaps) a BRAC gene or two (I’m getting tested to find out). We both share being duck-footed, we are hairy where we don’t want to be, although we have great hair on our heads (except sadly her lovely head of hair is in remission), we suffer from SAD and enlarged colons, and have high blood pressure. (Sorry if that is more information than you needed to know.)
My point is, could there be a gene for Living Alone and Loving It? I might ask my genetics counselor when I see her on Wednesday. What do you think? And are you the same as your siblings or the only live-alone oddball in your family?