How We Die in America

Evelyn “Evie” Chavoor would have been 100 this year. I don’t remember as much of her story as I should. Born in December, 1917, she attended UCLA and spent many years working for Helen Gahagan Douglas. By the time I knew Evie, she had retired but remained a force and followed politics closely. She was devastated when Edwards was outed as a philandering creep–he had been her candidate. I think she eventually backed Obama. We spent time together talking in her apartment, making trips to the grocery store, and visiting the doctor. She was one of my best friends in Washington, D.C.

I inherited her friendship from my great Aunt Isabelle, whose apartment my mother had inherited and in which I resided about ten years ago. On her 90th birthday, at a crowded party thrown by another friend in the building, she wore a sparkly plastic crown and an outfit that my mother intimated had cost thousands of dollars. She celebrated her 91st birthday in a nursing home, among four or five of us, in a shirt and slacks.

Evie had a brother who had studied law but became disillusioned when he realized that lawyers didn’t want to defend the law, but rather find ways around it. She seemed proud of him when she told this story. I think he died while she was still living in her apartment, but when I asked if she would fly out to California for the funeral, she said no. Flying is difficult when you’re hale and hearty. Once able to climb the stairs between our floors, she now took the elevator.

My great-aunt lived for many years with her mother, who mainly spoke Armenian. Evie was Assyrian and remembered Isabelle’s mother chastising her for using Turkish words. The word I associate most with Evie is “okie-doke.” And the phrase, “wellllll…I don’t know about that!” She was sharp and funny and opinionated and a general delight.

Around March of 2008, Evie went to the emergency room. Among other issues, she had a wound on her leg that wouldn’t heal. After about a week in the hospital, she was transferred to a nursing home up the street from our apartment building, where she lived for the rest of her life. For several months, I visited her almost every day. Our friendship grew so intimate that I assisted her in the bathroom. When someone you love asks for your help in there, you just provide what they need. That Fourth of July, I brought an assortment of berries–red and white–so share with her and her frenemy, Angelina, who had resided in the nursing home longer and was much more willing to engage in the provided social activities. As a result, she was happier than Evie, who always intended to return home.

My daily visits ended at some point during the summer, where we had a bit of a spat over some papers I was supposed to get her to sign. She, understandably, wanted to know what she was signing, and I tried to explain it to her, but she wouldn’t accept my explanation. This was probably because of the medication they were giving her, which caused her to mistrust me, forget what a platypus was and, one scary evening, to ask me, pleading, when her mother and father were going to arrive. I had to stop visiting her every day for my own mental health. Eventually, they readjusted her medications, which improved hers.

I’m still not sure why she was never able to return home. She wasn’t getting physically better, but home care could have met her needs and might have even been less expensive than the $18k/month nursing home. Her niece was more or less responsible for her, but she lived in California, and during her visits seemed to be unable to make any progress when it came to finding Evie alternate care. Evie refused her niece’s offer to move in with her–she wanted to go home, not across the country. If she wasn’t going to travel for her brother’s funeral, she certainly wasn’t going to travel now that she could barely walk. At one point I created a list of local home health care agencies. It’s possible her niece looked at it.

One of the last times I spoke with Evie, my mom was visiting her. I remember my mom saying I wouldn’t want to see her like this. I think I told Evie I loved her.

Eight years ago, I was waiting on the banks of Lake Michigan for the fireworks to begin. Upon waking, I had learned it would be over 100 in Chicago that day. Anything over 75 in the summer being disgusting, I spent the morning hooking up a window air-conditioner. It was a convenient way to avoid working on my graduate thesis. As I waited in the sticky night, my cellphone rang. It was my mother. “You know how Evie loved America…” Evie had died on the Fourth of July. I don’t remember if she was alone.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “How We Die in America

  1. Judith Beckmann

    Beautifully written, simple and deep. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a beautiful story, Rachel. I just told my husband that I didn’t want to do anything special today … but right now I think that reading this was the most special think I could do on a Fourth of July. Thank you …

    Liked by 1 person

  3. July 4 is one of my least favorite holidays. Thank you for giving me something to make me feel positive about today. On top of which, your writing in this is moving and lovely.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s so fraught…this felt right to think about yesterday. Adjacent, but removed, from the typical (often thoughtless) celebrations. I’m honored this reflection helped you feel better about the day.

      Like

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