I had always planned to care for my relatives in my home when it was time for them to die, but when New Jersey Aunt was dying, five years ago, caring for her at home was not possible. My aunt's physical needs were too great, and she was allergic to cats. I had four small children, a full-time job, and a cast on my leg from a bad break. We moved her into a nursing home just down the road, and I came to see her at least once every day.
I'd stop in the morning on my way to campus. Or late in the afternoon, when Daughter could babysit her brothers. Or I'd sneak out in the evening when Spouse was putting the kids to bed.
I'd walk in through the big double doors, into a hallway that smelled of clorox, stale urine, and some kind of sickeningly floral cleanser. When I came around the corner into my aunt's room, still carrying a gust of cold fresh air with me, she would look up and smile. No matter when I came, she was always eager to see me, ready to switch off the television, show me all the cards she had gotten in the mail, and recount again the childhood stories that I was learning by heart. I'd sit on the chair next to her bed, in that calm, quiet room, and listen to her talk. Her eyes never left my face.
I think everyone should have someone like New Jersey Aunt in their life. Someone who is always happy to see you, no matter what.