Finger On The Pulse



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?


12 thoughts on “Finger On The Pulse

  1. This is not easy to witness as I am finding at present with my 91 year old mother who is quite obviously moving into the last stage of her life.

    Perhaps what I find most difficult is watching someone who now has no life of her own; no input or stimulus. She is cared for in a home where everything is done for her and at times not of her choosing. As she is still aware (though more confused) it is even sadder to witness this.

    1. Charlie, I agree and understand. Its hard to watch. While I am in awe of how well my neighbor moves around & does on her own for someone who is 90, she sees it as all the things she used to be able to do or remember. I guess there’s no easy way for the mind and body to degenerate. I try to give her comfort in her transition and take notes to prepare myself if it should happen to me. I wish you and your Mom peace & find memories in this difficult time.

  2. This made me tear up. Death of our body is inevitable and everyone knows that, yet it conjures up emotions of sadness, anxiety and worry. My grandmother has been saying for a few years that she’s ready to go. Her husband (my grandfather) has been gone for about 10 years, and she is just having a hard time without him. She’s told us that she keeps seeing him in her bedroom when she’s going to bed and waking up, but he leaves once she’s out of bed. I know she misses him and she wants to be with him, and she keeps saying she wants to go with him. It’s a terrible feeling knowing you want someone to stay in this world, yet you know that their time will be up soon. All we can do is love them while they’re here.

    1. Yes, Keri! You are so right! Loving them is the most we can do. It is so hard to watch. My neighbor has few family members around and the ones who are present dont seem overly concerned that a 90 yr old is living by herself. At this point I think she should be spoiled like a child. She shouldnt have to worry about doing anything for herself. To take care of herself on a day to day basis must increase the feelings of loneliness. As a happily married woman of only 5 yrs, I can only imagine how hard it must be for your grandmother to live with purpose & joy without her partner. She is blessed to have you & I wish you well in your efforts to care for her.

    1. Hi Rachael, I actually feel really humbled. To be there when someone is going through that & to know that they trust you….it feels like a lot of responsibility but also an honor. Unfortunately you are right & thats whats wrong with the world now. We are not kind enough to each other. I just try to do my part.

  3. WOW!! That’s deep. I really cannot relate, but I can very well imagine the frustration, from not having much control over what happens in your world from moment to moment.
    I wish your neighbor peace as she continues to struggle with her anxieties.

  4. I’m not even talking to you and you have me all teary eyed. Thank you for sharing…often we forget that intimacy is beyond man and woman in a sexual nature. What you experienced was rare and delicate. God Bless you and Ms. Mini tremendously.

    1. Hi LondonEss, sorry to turn on your water works but thank you for allowing yourself to be touched. Your mention of intimacy definitely seems appropriate. When people share themselves in a vulnerable way it is divine. It is the very purpose for which we are made. We are blessed when we can find those moments in life. May God bless you also.

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