Recently I have found myself in a position I thought about but never really conceived I would find myself in, taking care of an aging parent. Now to anyone who has experienced this, you know it can be a special kind of hell. It’s not close to the torment that comes from watching a sick parent worsen or suffering through the terminal illness and loss of a child or loved one but it carries with it a strong measure of weight upon ones soul and shoulders.
It is hard to see someone you love deteriorate. It’s hard because it’s painful. The pain comes from witnessing that person become something you know they fear and despise. It’s hard because you are helpless to change the situation for them.
I have realized the only thing of any value or worth, is love and compassion. The love is always there, often strengthening but the compassion can be hard to find as I struggle with my own sense of loss and guilt at being unable to find a solution and of course, my own mortality. The love you hold for that person can at times feel like a curse and you then curse yourself for feeling this way. Death comes to us all but to watch it is an agonizing test of endurance, a test of one’s capacity to love without anger for circumstances beyond ones control.
Being one who is lucky enough to be blessed with the gene that makes me see the glass as half full, I have stumbled upon a smidgen of goodness in watching the slow decline of a person who owns a piece of my soul. What I have found is the memory of a life and it richness, its dark moments, its exuberance and zest and a perseverance in humans to always move forward regardless of challenges. I have realized it’s important to listen to the details of this life as she fondly remembers days gone by. To see the joy and connectedness to life as she excitedly tells of a day at the river swimming with brothers or a Father who made pull-taffy as a special treat. She knows now as perhaps she did not know then. how precious those times were. It is deeply true that the only things that count are the minutes, hours, days and years we spend in living a life.
While enjoyable, it’s certainly not important to have the finest china and crystal or the biggest home or bank account. None of these things mean anything, not really. The gift I have been shown and discovered in the eyes of a woman unwilling to admit her health is in decline is that the importance of life, the one lasting part of life, is love. This is the thing you hold in your heart and coddle. This is the only thing you take with you when you go.
While this knowledge does not make the path I must take any easier, it lets me know how I must tread. Softly, compassionately and with all the love I can muster.