On this Christmas day, my heart goes to those who have been deprived of what most of us take for granted. Abilities as basic as thinking clearly, or walking, or holding one's head up, or breathing without pain . . . For that gift of recognition, I am indebted to all the beautiful souls I met this week at a memory care community, and also at Zen Hospice Project:
Betsy, in the late stages of MS requires three people to feed her, two to hold her head, and the third one to place food in her mouth. She used to be an artist and make sculptures. Now her hands lay limp by her side. Betsy's body is betraying her, and yet her spirit is still very much intact. She smiles and grunts a resolute yes when I ask if she would like some more pureed squash soup.
Mimi is Japanese and 'total care' . . . She does not understand a word of English. It takes two aides to clean her, dress her and transfer her to her wheelchair. I am told she can be quite combative some times. That morning she obliges. Later, I see her sitting alone in one corner of the dining room, she smiles and tries to engage whoever comes close. I wonder, what must she feels? When offered some crackers, she first pushes them on the side, then ends up eating her entire snack.
Kate thought she could beat her leukemia but the latest news are not good. Down the drain, her dreams of a sweet retirement after a distinguished career as a scientist. Down the drain, the possibility of seeing her grandchildren grow up. Down the drain, the expectation she had of a longer life. She is pissed, and so would I.
Bob has stopped eating, and presents the emaciated corpse of one whose days are numbered, literally. There is little left for him to enjoy. Ice chips to cool his mouth, and the warm hand of a volunteer to hold, that's it. Lung cancer will do that to you.
Alice is 97 and wakes up with lots of fears, that someone has been taking advantage of her. Her favorite aide reassures her, and directs her attention to the task at hand. How about getting ready for her shower? The aide tapes a plastic bag around her ulcerated leg. "That's good, less work for you." Alice still has it in her to care for the one who cares for her.
Bill was a fighter pilot during World War II, and a damn good one. On one of the walls, I read that he flew over fifty missions. After she is done washing and dressing him, the aide gives him a thumbs up, and he responds in kind. Top Gun is still living in the old man. Later I see him slumped over his chair, drooling in the common room.
Kate just arrived at hospice. She's got Alzheimer's and gets confused sometimes. Her daughter tells me she likes beautiful things and still enjoys painting. When I come to wake her up for lunch, I see her stare at the ceiling. I look up and notice for the first time a gorgeous fresco around the light fixture. She knows that I see what she sees, and smiles. I smile back.
The human psyche is funny that way. It often takes coming close to the reality of an existence without, to fully appreciate that which we have.