Sunday Afternoon Rocking

As They Were


Afternoon All,

"What was she like?", they asked me. "We see them as they are now, as they come to us...but we don't often know how they were." And surprised and gladdened they had asked, had given me the opportunity to tell them about the vibrant life someone I loved dearly had loved, I began to tell them...

For some time now, I have been visiting with frequency those places I once was exposed to only periodically. I am becoming a bit more used to them, to the smells of strong cleansing agents meant to cover the smell of urine, of medicine, of the unpleasantries that seem attached to those final days of aging. I am becoming used to seeing folk in every stage of their final years, some aware and some not so, some sadly accepting and knowing, some cheerfully greeting the days that are theirs now. Nursing homes no longer shock or disturb me to the point of avoidance, and somehow, from the frame of reference I now regard them, I see the folks that dwell there in a far different light.

There was no one quite like her in the world, I thought. She was magical, some beautiful fairy godmother that stepped from the pages of one of my storybooks, and only existed when I visited Tennessee. She was the beautiful lady with the pretty and not at all practical dresses and matching accessories. She was the lady who loved to dance and loved to laugh and had more friends than I could count. She was the maker of more than just cakes..but cakes that took some time to think through. And the little touches like "coconut Easter grass with jelly bean eggs" were those magical things practical busy mothers did not have time to attend to.

She was the aunt who, never having had children of her own, delighted in escaping the kitchen where her sisters were preparing a family dinner, for the sole purpose of thinking up escapades to entertain a lonely little girl. She was the one who slipped out with me after bedtime to catch lightening bugs, poked holes in a jar-home for them and let me slip them under the covers with me to watch until I fell asleep. She was the one who took time to slip off to a bookstore, where my eyes grew wide at the possibilities, and bought a book of my very own so long as I promised not to begin reading it until I went home. I mustn't have my "nose in a book" when we could be "playing"! She was the one who planned picnics in the park just with me, who didn't tell when I wanted to slip up at night for a snack. She slipped me a "frog skin" when I left to go back home with my parents, and I would sit and smell the dollar bill all the way home because somehow her fragrance had managed to attach itself.

She lays in a hospital bed now, mumbling sometimes, but incapable of speech or memories or awareness of where she is. She does not know my name. I am not sure she remembers her own. Although she was once the same height and size as my adult self, she now weighs no more than a small child, and she lies curled up in a position that belies the frame she once had. They come to change her, come to see that she is getting nourishment, come to inject medicine and clean her...but they never hear her laughter, never see her dancing, never know the lady who loved the color pink so well and wore it at every opportunity. I wonder how many of them wonder... how many of them think that this bare shell of a person was once perhaps more vibrant and alive than they. Two did...because they asked...and surprised me...but how many? How many who tend to her? How many visitors who happen to glance into her room bother to realize? And sometimes I want to shout down the halls, "Let me tell you who she was! Who she really is!" The thought is futile...except in terms of my own growth.

I look at the others now with new eyes. The man who drools from the side of his mouth, whose glassy stare tells me his awareness is now gone...who was he? Did he fish once with a young son? Did he escort a beautiful young daughter down an aisle? Did he come home one day with a bouquet of flowers to surprise a wife? The lady who stands and writes invisible numbers on a wall...was she a teacher? Is she at her blackboard trying to explain to a group of students how to perform a mathematical operation? Did she tie shoes, and dry tears, and pull baby teeth to wrap up in a tissue for a child to take home to mom? They have a story, all of them. Every one of them has been vital and active, laughing and mobile...they all have a story. Some I can talk to and their eyes will brighten when they realize someone wants to hear. Some I cannot, and I can only imagine stories for them, appreciating that those stories indeed are there. They have been where we are, they are where many of us will be. They come to the final stages of life with a story. And somehow, if we can only learn to look past the clusters of them in all those unpleasant stages of aging, if we can only train our eyes to see beyond what appears to be there...they still have a lesson for us, a deep lesson about life and mortality, closure and aging, youth and appreciation, a lesson worthwhile to learn.

Next time listen. Listen with your eyes and smell with your ears...give them time to tell you, and their families a chance to tell you, when they cannot or won't... won't be so far off base. They lived the lives we live...and they are we and we are them.

just a thought,

Copyright ©2000JanPhilpot
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shared...simply share as written without alterations...and in entirety.
Thanks, jan)