Who knew that the sixth time something happens it still has the capacity to take one’s breath away, to give pause, to cut to the core? If the first is a surprise and the third is old hat, then certainly the sixth time should be tedious and uneventful. Not the case. At all. The passing of her father’s sixth roommate in not quite four and a half years shook Sylvia. One would think that she would have grown accustomed to death, that it would have become easier to handle and accept, especially in light of the daily visits to the nursing home. Not true. Not for her anyway.
Out of respect and privacy, I’ll refer to the dear man who left this world at around midnight, late Friday/early Saturday last week, as Mr. H. He was frail, ailing, aging, and I’m hoping he was at peace. I’d like to think he left on his own terms and had made peace with himself and anyone and anything else that gnawed at him in this life, but who knows, right? I only know what I know and what I saw.
Mr. H had been at the skilled nursing residence for some time; it was his home for better or worse. He and his older brother had made the skilled nursing facility their mutual residence in their later years, living and rooming there together as each dealt with his own infirmities. They had each other and that was a lot. Maybe that was everything. I think it just may have been! When his brother died, Mr. H moved upstairs into my father’s room. In my mind, once people share space for an extended period of time whether under the best or worst of circumstances, it makes them family–automatic family because (1) you are living together and not necessarily by choice; and (2) you’ll be privy (whether you want to or not) to all of the intimate and likely not-so-pretty details of the other’s life- family dysfunction and bodily functions. Let’s face it, folks. Once you’ve shared space, passed gas, and dressed and undressed in front of another day in and day out, you are no longer strangers. Again, for better or worse. So, Mr. H became family. Although he and my father never engaged in conversation, I do think that each found quiet comfort knowing that there was life, another being, just a few feet away.
Here is why six is so tough though. I came to know one through five through their visitors, their friends and families. Whether frequently or sporadically, each was visited at some point by someone who cared. I had the honor of seeing each man engage in life at various moments and experience joy, even if only for a few minutes at a time; when a daughter or son dropped by on the way to or from work; or when a wife was able to find the physical and mental fortitude and/or transportation to make the trek. The little chunks of time shared with a loved one made all the difference. The “brothers” whom my father came to know in his own way, they were allowed to be who they had been all their lives, authentically and intrinsically themselves because of their relationships and loves, rather than who they had become as a result of the injustice and weaknesses of their illnesses. Six, Mr. H, was different. Henever had a visitor. He hadn’t had one since at least six months before the pandemic. Think about that. Not one person. No one in this world felt the need or desire to visit Mr. H. Did he really have no one?
I could write forever ad nauseum about this, but I won’t. Frankly, it’s upsetting; and those to whom I’m trying to make a point are those who failed my father and will likely fail others who hang on to a love that cannot be reciprocated or offered unconditionally. I don’t know. I’m not their judge, but I do recognize a hubris, a lack of accountability, and a seeming nonchalance about their role in a loved one’s final days. Mr. H at some point in his life engaged with the world. Perhaps he was mean, a recluse or curmudgeon. Again, I don’t know. However, don’t we as human beings owe one another something – a morsel of decency and a little tenderness, especially in the end? Just as we all came into the world being anticipated and welcomed, wouldn’t it be lovely to leave the world or to help someone leave the world knowing that it’s not all bad? He or she mattered. If all another teaches us in the course of his, her (or their) life is how not to live and what we don’t want, then they have done this world and likely all of humanity a huge service. They have made your life, my life, more meaningful.
Six was hard. Mr. H, I hope you know that you made a difference. You were family. I will not forget you. May you rest in peace. Say hello to your brother and brothers, my father among them now.
Sometimes, almost always these days, Sylvia hastens to remind herself that we only learn how to live by watching how others are treated or mistreated, especially as they approach death. How to say hello comes naturally and easily. How welearn to say goodbye? Not so easy. How will you say goodbye?
Erma: Live a little life today, Syl. Remember yesterday- all of the yesterdays- but learn from them, muster strength from them, glean hope from them, and corral courage and confidence from them. I learned this from a very wise woman- my mother- in her final stages of life.
Sylvia: Well, right now you caught me. I’m sitting here for a moment making my mental list of things to do today, and at the very top (after “have two strong cups of coffee and a daydream” perhaps) is move– move forward with a bit of abandon; move forward with intent and purpose; and move forward knowing that those you love know you love them. Yep, Erma, I’ll live a little life today– or maybe quite a lot.
******************* Now, go ahead and make your move.
Erma: We lift each other up, Syl. That’s what we do. We save each other!
Your angel, my angel, and our angels are out there. They are the lady at Dunkin Donuts who knows you get two jellies each day and who periodically throws in an old-fashioned because she sees you’re having a rough morning; the neighbor upon whom you can rely in an instant to pack up her kids, your son and father to follow you in her car as you transport your ailing mother in an ambulance to the hospital an hour away; the friend who takes care of your crazy dog because she knows you are crazy for your dog, and she genuinely wants you to have those three days of respite you have needed forever; the woman who phones you or texts you each morning to remind you of how wonderful you are because you have forgotten- she does it under the guise of a conversation over coffee, but you both know.
Angels are everywhere.
They, our earth angels, may not have wings, but they all have something in common. They recognize need, and without being prompted, they willingly, lovingly, and compassionately perform an act that brings comfort and peace to you even if only for a moment. For a split second, a minute, an hour, a day or a week, they breathe life into us.
Your angel is there…I promise. And if he/she is not, it’s because you are likely someone else’s angel at the moment. Lift your wings and fly.
A room can be dank because you have closed the windows, you’ve closed the curtains. But the sun is shining outside, and the air is fresh outside. In order to get that fresh air, you have to get up and open the window and draw the curtains apart. Forgiveness is like this. (Desmond Tutu)
As Sylvia looked out her bedroom window this morning, she noticed the sunlight hitting it in such a way that she was struck concurrently by two thoughts: the first was pretty matter-of-fact, that she must stay home on occasion and get some cleaning done; and the second thing, well, that was a bit clearer, that even when we allow something into our hearts, minds, and souls, there is no purity in it unless we invite it without any preconceived notions or expectations. (Sylvia’s second cup of coffee had begun to work.)
It’s the most difficult thing to do, I believe, to forgive. Forgiving means you’ve been wronged or hurt. More precisely, it means you feel wronged or hurt. When Sylvia opens the windows, she becomes vulnerable, and it is that vulnerability where she risks being hurt. It is also that vulnerability that allows pure joy, love and peace to enter.
Hmm. So, you decide. Doors and windows open or closed? Forgive yourself first, and then open. Fresh air never felt so good. That’s what Sylvia has been doing on this summer day. The windows look much cleaner now.
Day in and day out, she tried to raise her son to be independent, kind, and strong. So, how lovely it is when she receives a simple message that reveals that he has become that man– and so much more!
When we recognize that our children become our teachers and purveyors of compassion and genuine goodness, then the world will make meaningful leaps towards being a place where love and kindness are in bloom year-round. ~K. Morgan
It wasn’t that her passions and appetites were finally coming to life. It wasn’t that she had learned that seizing an opportunity could be life-affirming. While those gifts were validating and restorative to her body and soul, Sylvia’s greatest gift was so much easier to access than any of those realizations. She just had to allow it. She had to allow herself to accept happiness in order to give herself the very thing that she thought she had lost. Herself. She was learning to count on the one who would never leave.
Wednesday wisdom: When you find yourself and believe in yourself, you will find the one person you can always count on.
Sylvia never really thought about it until yesterday. After a burst of anger followed by a short period of self-deprecation and sadness, she stops herself dead in her tracks. Neither the vexation nor the momentary lack of self-approval is who she is. They are volatile but thankfully short-lived. She is best who she is when she is standing still in the fresh air. No desire to make herself or anyone else happy.
Boredom, anger, sadness, or fear are not ‘yours,’ not personal. They are conditions of the human mind. They come and go. Nothing that comes and goes is you. ~Eckhart Tolle
Sylvia hasn’t returned calls lately. She hasn’t written all of her thank-you notes for the outpouring of support and sympathy she has received. She’s getting there little by little, but she feels apologies are in order. She doesn’t want anyone to think she’s self-absorbed.
“Are you nuts? Stop apologizing for being human,” scolds Erma. “There is a time and a place to ask for forgiveness. Now is neither the time nor the place, Syl. Swallow the words ‘I’m sorry’ as if they are chocolate today. Trust me, they melt in your mouth like M&Ms when they aren’t called for.”