Friday, November 6, 2009

Egg-Shaped Lives

As I go from house to house, visiting one dying person after another, I am struck by what a complete package any life is. Their birth is followed by the entirety of their lives. I come in at the very end and yet, their lives are all there, full and complete, even if it is almost over. Even though they are near death, they are still very much alive and vibrant.

One man that I visited yesterday is from St. Thomas. He has been in the country for many years. He was a minister and has a deep faith in God and he knows that God is with him. He has end-stage Parkinson’s disease. He is bed bound, very weak and he is difficult to understand when he speaks, but he is perfectly lucid. He is a lovely lonely man.

His wife, who is somewhat younger than he, feels trapped in this small apartment with her husband, so three days a week she goes out to a senior center and leaves her husband home alone. When we arrived he was very thirsty, we gave him some Ensure to drink. His foot was bothering him and Maggie was able to adjust the pillow to give him some relief.

Then we started to talk. We talked about God, I read some from the Bible to him, and he started to cry. He cried because his wife leaves him alone so much and even when she is home, she doesn’t stay in the bedroom with him, she sits in the living room. She is probably afraid and can’t face her fears. I’m sure it is difficult for her. It is hard to see your husband fade away and that is what he is doing… he is fading away bit by bit.

I felt so honored to be there. I wanted to stay with him. We stayed about an hour and then had to leave. Fortunately, Warren stayed with him until either his wife returned home or his nursing aid arrived. This was one day he didn’t have to be alone.

Then we went to see a widow. She is the widow of a doctor, obviously very wealthy, quite beautiful and very intelligent and learned. However, she always lived in the shadow of her husband. They had been married for over sixty years. She is trying to make her way in the world without him. Now, she is fortunate, she lives in a wonderful independent-living community with all the amenities, and the possibilities of companionship with the other residents. She has her dog with her and she is able to walk the dog and care for her. On the surface she has it all. But, she is terribly lonely and very lost without her husband. Her struggle is palpable and her pain is very real.

We had a lovely visit with her and she was so grateful for the help that we offered her. We were just a sympathetic ear and a bit of a diversion from her pain for an hour or so.

Then we went to visit a woman with end-stage Alzheimer’s disease. She is only in her early seventies and has been struggling with this for fifteen years. Her husband is the most loving and caring person I think I ever met. He sees no difference in the woman he loves; to him she is who she always was. They were both educators who never had children of their own. He has help caring for her, but primarily, he takes care of her. It is impossible to communicate with the woman, she recognizes no one, not even her husband. She has no concept of anything that is going on around her, or if she does understand anything, she is unable to acknowledge it in any way.

In each home that I went into, there are pictures of their lives. As I looked at the photographs, I was struck but the totality of their lives. I saw a small egg-shaped entity that contained it all. All the years held within this egg. Each egg-shaped life nestled with the other lives that touched them. Together, these eggs are nestled in a nest that form a family, and then the nests come together to form a community. It grows and grows until it encompasses all of life on this planet… and I’m sure it doesn’t stop there. However, this one life, this egg-shaped entirety of life, while small against the backdrop of the whole is insignificant, but when that life is gone, there is a hole that is impossible to replace.

We may never know the man from St Thomas, or the rich widow, or the educator that has lost all ability to think, we may never know them personally, but their loss will leave an empty space in the fabric of our lives.

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