Sometimes you can just spend a couple of hours with someone, but it can change the way you see the rest of your life.
A couple of weekends ago, on a trip back to California, I visited my eighty-something year old aunt who is now living in a home for those with memory loss.
She has dementia, and the truth is, in just this last year alone, her ability to hold a conversation has diminished so much.
I’m glad that I get to see her whenever I’m in town, but each time, I feel like when I look in her eyes, it’s getting harder and harder to see that person she used to be.
And it’s really heartbreaking.
Like everyone else, before dementia set in, she was vibrant and so full of life. She was a beautiful, confident woman. She always kept the most immaculate home and never hesitated to have us over and feed us delicious meals.
She is still such a beautiful woman. Her small studio apartment is immaculate still, filled with only a bed, a dresser, a chair, and a small desk. There’s a picture of my uncle with his smiling eyes on her dresser and a framed family crest made with golden origami cranes on the wall. She has lined a few cards and letters from family and friends along her window sill. It’s warm, quiet, and elegant in its simplicity, with all that she needs, but there is nothing more.
That day, we went to lunch at a Korean restaurant nearby. She ordered seafood soon dubu, and I watched her slowly savor all of it … every bit of this delicious bubbling tofu soup full of her favorites, fresh shrimp and clams, over a steaming bed of rice.
Then we went for a slow walk around her living quarters. Afterwards she showed me her studio apartment as if I had never seen it before.
She pulled out her schedule for the week. There would be stretching class, walks, Tai Chi, and bingo. Then she showed me the bistro area in the commons, and offered some tea and one of the rock-hard sugar free cookies that sat on a plate on the counter.
We said goodbye, and I drove away, feeling so much respect for her, for what she is facing and how she is facing it with grace. But it was sad to think she wouldn’t remember this day at all.
I can’t begin to imagine what she is going through, slowly losing her independence, a sense of herself.
Dementia, Alzheimer’s, and the like – it’s all so cruel.
I settled myself on the plane home the next day, and I kept thinking about her life and what it’s teaching me.
Because her life, and the millions of other lives affected by memory loss, is screaming something to all of us.
Her world is one of quiet and order now. But I know it wasn’t always this way.
Seasons change. And this season I’m in, though messy and overwhelming at times, will pass, too. The laundry won’t always be piled so high, the dishes won’t always be overflowing, my kids’ socks won’t always be on the floor … two inches shy from the hamper. My girl won’t always be begging me to play doll house with her when I am bone tired. My kitchen counters won’t always be sticky. My home won’t always be tornado-stricken, echoing with bursts of my kids’ disagreements on certain days… or the sound of my name being called a thousand times within an hour… or the precious sound of their laughter. Though I pray my husband and I will grow old and gray together, I sadly realize, I may not always have his hand to hold … or mine for him. Life keeps moving, changing and nothing stays.
And while this kind of makes me want to ball up and sob, this is exactly the hard thing I need to remember, especially when life begins to feel like a daily grind.
I can think of so many ways I tend to waste my day. I can tell you a list of things I worry about that no one will care about in ten years. My concerns are real. Time does tick. Things have to get done. My bones do ache. But I am saddened by how many gorgeous sunsets I have whizzed by trying to get somewhere. I’m ashamed that I can still find myself complaining when I have been blessed with so much beyond what I deserve.
One day, I know, I will wish all my sweet chaos back again.
Maybe this is true for you, too.
I hope that we who can still remember, will never forget the privilege of all these ordinary experiences we have everyday.
Our days are passing, literally slipping through our hands. And honestly I think, this is part of life’s mystery, urgency, and beauty.
So let’s take this day and savor it, however imperfect, ordinary and messy.
Because each day has unique gifts in it that we don’t get back again.
God, help us all who can still remember, to never forget this.