As I rested yesterday, the doorbell rang and our 90 year old neighbor (who lives alone) summonsed me over to her apartment because she felt fogginess around her eyes and thought her blood pressure may be up. This is not unusual and typically has been settled with conversation and sipping something warm before we check her pressure again to confirm that she should feel better. However, lately during these visits, she has begun to express frustration through tears at the realization that age is robbing her of her mind’s sharpness and her body’s ability to work like a machine. Just the other day she bawled inconsolably because she needed help pulling her window shade down after it flipped up to the top.
But today we sit in the silence, holding each other’s hands – hers small, soft and withered with bony knuckles. She strokes my hand with her thumb as if to quench a thirst for the human touch. I stroke her hand back to let her know its ok and I am here. She is not alone. As we sit at her dining table the tears stream and she recalls childhood memories, questions why God would do this to her, and wonders why now she is afraid all after all these years. She slides over the large print Bible we gave her and tells me to read Psalms 90. She recites along as I read.
I fix tea to help calm her and eventually she resigns to prepare herself for bed. I’m curious as she moves around if this is her usual nightly routine or if she is doing something different tonight. What is she anticipating? As she intently picks out a faded night gown, she mumbles scripture to herself nonstop.
After she washes up and puts on her clean sleepwear, she calls me to powder her back with an old-school powder-puff taken from an aged box of a powder they probably don’t make anymore. Something called Ciara. Despite her own sadness at what she is losing mentally and physically as mortality progresses, I am quite impressed with how easily she bends over while seated to put her own socks on. At the same time I’m aware at the melancholy resolve in the air as she gives me her key to come check on her in the morning. As if she wasn’t sure she’d wake up ok, or at all.
What is there to do when you feel your finger on the pulse of life as it fades into death? As we live, we know death is inevitable. Yet when it effects us we still are rarely equipped to handle it. As a spectator, it’s hard to watch someone struggle through each long day when she is alone and sad because life as she knew it is no more. It’s easier to understand how one might not want to die but knows no other way to end what feels like a miserable existence. Since we control little in these circumstances, the most we can do is be there.
As I opened the door and called out her name this morning, I felt mixed emotions. No answer. What was I anticipating? As I approach the bedroom I see her legs & the vintage floral sheets on the bed, but when I called again ….. no answer. As I push open the door I see my friend, body still, eyes open. I call her name one last time and she looks at me as if she doesn’t fully process that I’m there. But alas, it is a new day! She slips out of sleepiness to sit up and hug me….glad that she made it through the night. As am I. Grateful to be a part of this beautiful experience in one’s journey. Feeling the concentration of richness contributed to my own.
Life. Death. Aging. Loneliness….What’s your perspective?