We’ve all heard these words when someone has died and we are mourning them. At least one person remarks “Death is a part of life and we have to accept it.” We know that to be true and mourning doesn’t mean we don’t accept it but…it doesn’t make it any easier.
When you get to be the age I am or older, those words become harder to hear, and harder to ignore. In the past weeks I’ve lost close friends outside of this facility. Plus we, meaning the other residents and myself included, have lost people we care about here. Why shouldn’t we expect it? Most of us are over sixty-five. Many have physical problems that are a challenge every single day, yet we are always surprised when a person leaves us for their heavenly home.
For those that don’t live in a senior facility it’s hard to understand. When you reach a certain age it is a reality that the circle of friends you’ve had for years gets smaller. In an assisted living home it’s a reality that almost weekly someone you care about will pass. The noise of a siren alerts everyone in the building someone is in trouble. If we see them leave we pray they will be able to return to us. The person down the hall or on another floor is now a part of your family and we grieve when they leave us.
As our families are living out in the world going to work, activities, and living their lives, we have formed a new family, the family we now have is those we live with. We become close because we spend more time with them and the staff then our own families.
We share meals at the table day after day. Whether someone sits at our table, we still chat with each other across the room. Our days consist of playing and talking with the same people for hours, much like we did with our own families when they were home.
I think the outside world when they look inside these walls, sees the wheelchairs, crippled bodies and failing minds. The outside world visits for a few hours and sees the surface but they don’t see the living, the inspirational living, they see the dying. .
If people would have been peeking in the dining room window last night they might have been surprised. At our table you would have seen ten people, some in wheelchairs, others with walkers and others more able, enjoying a meal. You would have seen some laughing so loud they were almost crying. You would have seen us joining hands and praying for another resident who is having surgery. You would have seen us breaking bread and heard us in song, singing whatever tune came to mind. You would have seen a family put together by circumstances and attitudes of courage and strength and caring for each other. Attitudes which surpass any physical and mental ailment which any of them are experiencing.
Back to death. We lost one of our own last week. It was expected yet it wasn’t. We knew hospice had been called, but our friend at the end of last week was still vibrant, teasing, smiling and active. She was preparing. A gifted, talented person she had passed on her artwork to others. This person made arrangements for her possessions to be given to others in the building who could use her items and had not been able to afford them on her own. She told me she was ready and yet…we had no idea how close we were to losing her. So it was a shock when we found out she passed.
Her friendship was a gift to all of us. She was so much more then the disabilities she had. It was her attitude, her smile and her determination that she left with us. We had a party the day she died, we didn’t cancel but remembered her and knew she would have been right there dancing with us, and yes you heard me right…dancing. More about that in another post. But we could dance as we mourned because though unspoken we all do know death is a part of life and her legacy left us knowing we need to live first.
It’s another view from inside these walls that I didn’t expect. Lively activity, inspirational conversations and tugs on my heart that I didn’t expect. So often we make assumptions when we see someone. If they are bent over and in a wheelchair that person may go unseen because society has given us the impression that the elderly and frail sit in that wheelchair day after day and have nothing left to contribute. Don’t count them out. Take the time to visit and talk and you might be surprised at what you find.
Another resident, newer than us to this facility and younger than most of us remarked at dinner that those had been their thoughts when they found they had to live here, because of the help they now needed. “I was wrong. I am home. This is now home.”
Inside these walls, death is a part of life. But it’s the life that happens first that will amaze you. Visit inside the walls. Throw your expectations away. Take off your blindfold and see beyond the bodies. Look into the eyes of the most beautiful souls you will ever meet.