At the risk of sounding morose, I’ve been spending a lot of time contemplating mortality – mine and others’ – these past few weeks.
One reason that life and death have been on my mind is because of recent interactions with an aging relative. My last living great aunt just celebrated her 95th birthday, and this milestone seems to have coincided with a rapid decline in her health. She’s in assisted living, can’t walk or use the bathroom on her own, her eyesight and hearing are nearly gone, and most recently she has begun to experience some pretty intense hallucinations, which we’re told is a sign of accelerating dementia.
I have to admit that this particular aunt is not one of my favorite people. She has never been very nice to me, and she has been especially nasty to my mom – her primary caregiver for the past five or so years. Despite her cranky disposition, I have nothing but compassion for her today ... I would not wish her current condition on my worst enemy.
She’s in a little bit of physical pain, but her mental anguish has got to be truly unbearable. She is hearing voices and believes that everyone is out to rape, maim or kill her. She is even afraid to eat because she thinks the food is poisoned. It’s heartbreaking.
I cannot imagine living with that kind of irrational paranoia. It’s a horrible way to exist during what I can only assume are the final days/weeks/months of her life. And this might sound awful – I have a healthy dose of guilt about it, believe me – but I really hope that God sees fit to take her before she gets any worse.
Of course, my mom has made more than one comment about how SHE could never live like that, and she hopes my brother and I would just put her out of her misery if it ever came down to it … and that’s got me thinking about my own mother’s transience, which is a train of thought that, quite frankly, blows. Sure, I may be 40 years old, but I am not ready to think about the fact that my mom isn’t always going to be there for me. I’m. Just. Not.
My momma pointed out recently that she’s the same age as her own mother was when she had the first of two strokes that ultimately led to her death. (When I heard those words come out of Mom’s mouth, my inner, petulant child stuck her fingers in her ears, stomped her feet and shrieked, “No, no, no, no!” at the top of her voice. I really could have done without that particular bit of info. Sheesh.)
After I got finished with my own inner tantrum, I noticed that my mom was freaking out a bit herself. Turns out this realization motivated her to get a few things checked at the doctor. So far, no red flags.
But I do have to admit that I’m checking on my mother a lot more often these days. Wouldn’t you? I mean, I want to make sure she’s OK, but I also don’t want to take her for granted, which in the past was very easy for me to do.
Beyond my aging aunt and momma, I have a teenage son who provides the occasional circle-of-life reality check as well. As many kids his age do, he tends to engage in some pretty risky behavior. (Like mother, like son. It’s a miracle I made it to age 21. Seriously.)
On the one hand, I’m glad he feels like he can confide in me. But on the other, there are some things I wish I did not know. Let’s just say I do a fair share of praying for that child when he is out with his friends.
There are also people I care for serving our country and putting their lives on the line every day, and still others out “in the madness” of drug and alcohol addiction, which is its own kind of precarious existence.
Anyhoo, my point to all this is, I cannot help but feel acutely aware of my own humanity and the fragility of human life in general these days. This depressing topic has truly helped me appreciate the gift of life more than ever before.
I’ve decided that all of these recent reminders of life's preciousness do nothing but vehemently reinforce a decision I made when I reached the milestone age of 40 last July – that I am not going to waste anymore time on regret, and instead am going to actively chase my bliss for the NEXT 40 years... assuming I am lucky enough to live that long.
On the career front, that bliss is getting so close I can taste it. I’m just about ready to take the leap into full-on entrepreneurship, finally telling only the stories that I want to tell. (I’ll keep you posted on my progress.)
And speaking of stories, this topic of mortality, and especially the memory of my sweet grandmother, reminded me that I used to fancy myself a poet. OK, that’s an overstatement. It would be more accurate to say that I wrote a bunch of poems and a few of them did not suck.
I’d like to close this post with one I wrote about my grandmother for a college poetry class. I was very proud of it at the time, and it’s held up pretty well over the years. I hope you’ll agree.
(FYI, “Notes Part I” is dedicated to my brother. I might share that one at another time.)
To my grandmother, Alma Chambers 1909-1981
That sticky July, my mother brought home
a miniature chocolate cake with
green icing from the nurses at
She'd spent her 37th birthday
in a stiff-backed chair beside
your sterile bed.
I was nine and didn't know
you weren’t coming home
to your bedroom
down the hall from mine,
until I saw you in that beige-ruffled casket
more make-up on than you'd ever worn,
but not prettier.
My mother touched your forehead,
looked like she was checking for fever.
I just felt cold.
She said you did, too.
Snow dust had settled
on our sidewalk
by the time we entered your room.
I foraged your closet.
Through silk scarves
and ancient, beaded purses
my magic silver shoes
the ones that made me feel like Dorothy Gale
even though they weren’t shrouded in rubies
I snatched one up, all set to go clomping
about the house
A slip of paper fluttered past my
toes and onto red shag carpet:
"I love you Amy"
and a flower, scrawled
by your stuttering hand.
My mother said
she watched your spirit
drift out of your body
even before your heart stopped.
You knew I would
look for those shoes.
About Amy Higgs
A former newspaper columnist, Amy takes her random, slice-of-life stories to the web. After nine years, she's still just saying.