Constance Marie Piccone’s Story

My Dear Aunt Conny’s Story – told by Helayne Ray

Constance Marie Piccone was born in 1924 to an Irish mother and Italian father and raised as a devout Catholic. Her parents said she was so independent and self-confident that it was easier to let her do what she wanted rather than fight with her. As a young woman during WWII, she watched many of her friends go off to war and not return. Being fiercely patriotic, she held jobs to help the war effort, eventually working for TWA, Transatlantic World Airlines, when she was in her 20’s.

Fun loving and independent, she and her TWA co-worker, Mary, traveled the world together many times. She would entertain us with her adventures in Tahiti in dugout canoes, riding camels in Egypt, the old city of Jerusalem for a pilgrimage, all memorialized with photos. When TWA opened their first Ambassador’s Club in the Philadelphia Airport, she was chosen as the manager of the club. Her boss said it was due to her ability to manage without supervision and that she made people feel that they were important. She kept that position for the next 45 years and retired at 72 years old only when TWA closed its business. During that time, she was able to spend time talking with many movie stars, rock bands, US presidents and religious leaders (Billy Graham was her favorite). She said she was at ease with all of them.

Aunt Conny never married and loved her freedom to make her own choices. She bought a nice house in Media, PA and had her parents move in with her. She took care of her dad when he had Parkinson’s disease in his 80’s, and nursed her mother who had stomach cancer in her 80’s. After retirement, she volunteered as a Hospice aide. She related stories of her parents and hospice patients who suffered terribly due to their terminal illnesses. She believed in a person’s right to choose a painless death if it was clear that they were going to die soon from a terminal illness. She told me a million times that she hoped to die peacefully in her sleep.

Picture of Conny PIccone standing in her driveway

Still vibrant at 95!

When she was in her 80’s she purchased a house in Florida next to mine. The PA winters were a bit too cold and her nieces and nephews had all moved to Florida. She was very proud of her independence and being older, we talked about death a lot. She believed that our spirits live long after our physical bodies have died. She was not afraid of death at all, instead she was afraid that she could have a terminal illness and suffer. We agreed that if she ended up sick she wanted to die in her house rather than in a hospital.

At 96 years old, weighing only 80 pounds, she was often experiencing mini-strokes and chest pains due to a blockage in her aorta artery. Due to those conditions and her age, her doctor suggested she enroll in hospice. Other than these physical issues, she was a fully competent woman in every way. One afternoon she slipped and fell on the tile floor. She shouted to Alexa to call me and I raced to find her on the floor screaming in pain. I called the paramedics, who immediately looked at the rotation of her leg and said she had most likely broken her hip. She refused to go to the hospital because she would not agree to surgery at her age; the paramedics agreed and gently lifted her back into bed. Hospice nurses arrived and administered morphine. I moved in with her and became her full-time caregiver, with Hospice nurses/aides visiting.

She was in pain from that time until she passed away shortly before her 97th birthday. She would pray to God to let her die and not wake up. The morphine never completely eliminated the pain, but instead produced horrifying hallucinations. She hated the thought of me taking care of her catheter and changing her diapers. She apologized over and over. And then she would have another bout of pain followed by hallucinations. The morphine was increased to the point where she was not alert anymore, but still not out of pain. Even while heavily sedated she would try to ease the pain by moving her leg. It was horrible to watch. Finally, her body gave up and she died.

If Florida had a medical aid in dying law, she would have taken the medication within a few days of starting the morphine. Instead she had to suffer. This was the turning point for me to become active in getting a medical aid in dying law passed for all Floridians. My dear Aunt Conny’s spirit is now soaring around the world revisiting the places she traveled in her younger years. I miss her terribly, but I know she would be proud to know that I was working for a Florida medical aid in dying law.

Conny Piccone laying in bed smiling

See you in the spirit world!