Her legs fold at the knees, barely relaxing as she sits on her rollater. Her feet meet the carpet of a room inhabited by dozens before her, and I sense her restlessness. The walls—boring white, but windows that welcome all of the sunlight bringing contrast to the neutral colors and pale, worn-out wood.. no ambiance or charm, just walls with windows. Even with the furniture from her own home, it isn’t quite hers.. only feeling ambivalence, as it brings unwelcoming change.
Change always rubs against the grain of our souls. I know this in my own way, but not in the way that Mary now does.
My eyes keep coming back to rest on the silver balls in her pierced ears. Outfitted in the comfort of loungewear with the exception of this subtle flare to remind me that she’s still a lady.
Her husband has come into the habit of falling–-once strong with sharp reflexes, now feeble and unsteady. Unpredictable. Yet he still calls her “the boss”, with a wink, smiling and content just to be near her. She is his home. This is evident by how he says her name as if he’s still in love with the sound of it.
but Mary moves agitatedly, trying to locate her handbag.
“I had my gold jewelry all laid out but”... her voice trails as she considers the fact that it may just have gotten left behind.
It will turn up, I say.
I think of my kitchen at home, what it would feel like to have it reduced to a few cupboards and a single, shallow sink with no skirt or cabinet to hide the plumbing. Exposed. Just like this husband and wife, now living under the watchful eyes of strangers and nurses.
Age takes us places we don’t want to imagine, then all at once the familiarities that were a comfort are replaced with only bare essentials from a life we built. We reluctantly become graphed into a new community that threatens to strip away our identity.
Mary tells me a story about her daughter. When they moved to the house they had lived in for so many years before yesterday. Her daughter was just two and a half at the time. She would cry to her mother that she wanted to “go home”. When Mary would move things as a way to begin settling and unpacking her little daughter would say firmly: put it back!.. put it back!
If we could do that for you, sweet Mary. If we could put it all back..
Izzy their old border collie bit her 22 times. 22. I know she feels the sting similar to those bites in the recesses of her heart, longing to rewind twenty or thirty years and live in the hours that were dictated by their own agendas not by meals in the dining hall or by infrequent visitors. Here, hours tick by painfully slow, as the word “Home” begins to morph before her very eyes, a place that keeps her safe, but doesn’t make her whole. Homesick we call it, sick for our home, pining for befores, yet still trying to be faithful with these afters. I heard several times in a week: Consequences are non-negotiable, It’s how you react to them. I think it’s perfectly acceptable to wrestle with the gamut of emotions, even right to push against the walls that may be around you so they don’t have the last word. Pain and loss are not our friends, but they can be teachers, ruthless ones, but teachers nonetheless.
There are gems of wisdom still falling from your lips, dear Mary, and your heart is soft and yielding; don’t let it become hard, don’t swallow bitterness and let it poison you. Spit it out and choose to live– to give every last ounce of yourself to the world. Don’t let them tell you 90 reasons to throw in the towel. You have 90 battle scars to show them you are not done yet.
Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted;but when you are old you will stretch out your hands and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go. John 21:18
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