Tuesday, June 1, 2010, aunt Stela was laid to rest. It was an ominous day with frightening lightning and thunderclaps. The clouds erupted into a torrential rain about the time her coffin was carried outside the home she built with her husband Costel forty years ago. Romanians are really superstitious people, a remnant of the Roman culture. They believe that if it rains, the deceased did not wish to die. If that is true, aunt Stela was the cover story of a spirited woman who wanted to live in spite of her dire circumstances. She believed and hoped for a cure from God until her last breath.
The elders of the village and relatives showed up to celebrate the life of the deceased however, the frightening weather kept many at home. Stela's wishes were not honored as the goverment denied permits to build an underground mausoleum. In traditional Roman fashion, she had saved her money in preparation for this day but she had to be buried in a hole in the ground half filled with water. Her casked was huge, as her limbs had separated from joints and she suffered many fractures as well. The bone cancer had eaten up her entire body but not her spirit. She used to tell me that she felt the cancer eating away at her bones. She was never at peace about death - she did not believe in the afterlife and there was so much to do around the house and garden. She always raised roses and a vegetable garden. The village priest tried in vain to bring her peace through numerous confessions but admitted to have failed. She was a tortured soul. After burial, it was customary to give away food and clothing in memory of the deceased. There were few people left in the hard driving rain to accept these gifts.
I wonder what would have happened if the socialist government had been merciful to Stela and not refused her surgery and treatment when she needed it? Were the people on the death panel responsible for the decision to withhold timely surgery, chemo, and radiation feeling guilty for killing Stela and so many patients before their time? Did older people not pay their dues to society? Did they not deserve respect and care in their old age? Did the members of the death panels feel pangs of regret for denying adequate morphine doses to patients who suffered so much pain, they no longer felt human and welcomed death as a relief? Who but God had the right to make or take life? Is there such a thing as a Hyppocratic oath anymore? Have we become so calloused in the face of pain and suffering? What are we if we cannot be defined by our humanity? Does rationing of medical care through mathematically clever formulas describe how advanced we are technologically, but how low we have sunk ethically and morally?
Aunt Stela was in a coma for ten days with lucid moments among many delirious rants. She was whispering in the last two days of her life. Her last wish was that the priest not spray her body with red wine during the last rites. She did not want to be buried dirty and soiled. She desired to be pretty, makeup in place, just the way she was in life.
I cry for her soul, I hope she found peace. I want to remember her the way she was - full of life, dry and witty humor, and positive until the very end. I spoke with her three weeks ago and she was actually laughing. What a positively powerful woman! God rest her soul!