Seeing my Aunt D today in a single room in a group home in the gray, misty and low cloud covered city in the Bay Area was eye-opening and reality inducing. I walked away feeling both solemn and jolted at the same time with a rush of urgency and gratitude. I took note of her eclectic surroundings and the shock of her shrinking self. I was powerfully reminded of our incredible chance at life and I took this disquieting sight as an invitation to rejoin it again full steam ahead!
Whittled Down to a Room in a Home
Her room was clean, neat with only a few knick-knacks and worn personal belongings. Her bed and shelves were dotted with a ratty Garfield, Minion and Snoopy stuffed animals and some medical supplies in an uncoupled white dresser with no obvious set . There were five to six pictures of flowers and sunsets that may have been painstakingly provided by my cousins as images that their mom would cherish. Or more likely they were simply pictures that the staff had purchased from a few second hand stores. It’s a little discomforting to see someone at the end of their days not surrounded by the material possessions that fully represent them. She was not surrounded by her most treasured things like cats, trains, antique furniture or symbols of her devout faith. Yet, this notion is is rightfully neglected when realizing the importance of finding meaning in life and the irrelevance of mere things.
The ambiance was not sterile like a cold hospital with cold, chrome metal chairs in the hallways. Nor was it cookie-cutter, passionlessly decorated like so many chain hotels using fifty various shades of beige. Instead it was brightly colored reminiscent of the SouthEastern Asian homelands that many of the caregivers originated from. It was decorated with some wooden ornaments of a temple from the Philippines and a wind chime with tassels radiating bright green jade, fire engine red and golden bells hanging from the back of the door to alert staff when visitors arrive. Humorously, the heater temperature was marked at cold from 66-74 degrees F and warm from 75-85 degrees. No matter the decor, her caregivers tended to her lovingly, kept her tidy and clean and provided that hands on care that we sadly couldn’t day in and day out.
Bed of Bones and Soaring Spirit
She looked so sunk-in, boney at maybe at 100 pounds and postured tensely in a crouched over and tightened position uncomfortably in bed. I don’t know that she was tense because of unpleasant stimuli such as so many voices visiting her at once? As she regularly had no more than two people at a time in her room. Or if she was ticked that we changed her TV channel to football? As I saw her soften and relax her gaze and shoulders a little when the televised church service came back on when my visiting uncles left. I can only imagine how frustrating it must be to not be able to communicate normally. We conversed about her in front of her. Yet, I’ll never fully know her mind or who keeps her company there in the quietness of her thoughts as she hasn’t really hasn’t been able to verbally respond to direct questions and interactions in years.
It’s impossible to know how much of her own mind she knows? Or if body language responses really mean what we’d think they do? Do grumbles and grunts indicate her dislike for a comment? Or is it much simpler (like when caring for a baby) that a physical stimulant is what she is responding to? What agony to see any loved one that was once so full of life nearly like a skeleton in her bed. My my heart sank. This is the NOT the Aunt D that I knew and loved.
Who is this woman?!
What has she done with our sweet, easy to laugh, always extremely caring (perhaps to a fault), smart, crazy hard working, funny, devout and faithful-to-her children, faithful-to- God and faithful to-all-who-knew-her woman??
It’s too complex to explain the circumstances of how her life arrived here. It’s only important to note the daunting hours it took to get her the necessary care she needed in this place. That is must be the most incredibly taxing and treacherous emotional mountain for her children to climb as they daily visit her and see her decline. And most importantly, that she is here.
Here physically in this space and a reminder of how when death taps us on the shoulder and God guides us warmly home, a shell of a body remains, but her spirit transcends all physical limitations.
Invitation to Life
I walked in saddened by the reality of my Aunt D in such a state. I felt awakened to life’s ridiculously precious and short moments where it can all change and disappear on a dime. As well as feeling grateful for the memories I have had with her.
What an invitation a day like this brings to cherish life! To diligently prioritize what is important in all of God’s bountiful Earth. For me, right now, it is to:
1. Specifically tell loved ones how and why they matter to me as much as possible.
2. Keep exploring my natural gifts like writing postcards to 20 friends whenever I visit someplace new. Or venturing into a new career of writing just because I love it and think that there must be a crazy way I could pay my light bill doing something that I get lost in.
3. Do more and more of the things that light me up and not worrying how it appears to the outside world. I visit the land of “shouldville” in my mind all too often and it is town that I really abhor with its cantankerous citizens criticizing my zeal for life and censoring my joy.
4. It’s giving gratitude for life including the wonderful memories I had with her on a beach in Ft. Bragg, visiting shops in Ashland, Oregon, riding a train through the Redwoods or seeing a baseball game by the Bay.
5. Finally, my invitation to life is to remember that there is ENOUGH in this abundant world. ENOUGH love and compassion in this world for all. And I’m a messenger tasked with giving that out as often as it’s given to me.
We will all exit this Earth with our spirit to soar and how we live it now is what really matters.
Go hug someone!
They need it and so do we!