“I don’t know how you find your way.”
I looked in my rear-view mirror at Aunt Marcy. She’s sitting in a wheelchair in the place where my son usually sits. I drive a lift van so taking Aunt Marcy shopping and out to lunch isn’t hard. Not physically, anyway.
I risked another glance in the mirror, taking in her white hair that she used to take such pride in. I felt a pang at the lack of lipstick. A few years earlier she would not have been seen in public without her trade-mark bright red lips. Her usually sharp, snapping dark eyes have grown dim.
I know she’s blind in the left eye from macular degeneration. She keeps going to eye doctors for glasses. She throws them away because they don’t work, never quite understanding that the vision she lost will never come back.
I’m quite sure God put me with Aunt Marcy to teach me some much-needed life lessons. Walking into the nursing home every week is the equivalent, for me, of dropping down Alice’s rabbit hole. It’s not a journey I would choose to make.
It disturbs me to see the angry lady propelling herself down the hallway, her version of pacing even if it is from the seat of a wheelchair. She curses with every push she makes. Vicious, angry, yet a part of me quivers in admiration at her spirit. She has a right to be angry. She never asked to be lost in the darkness of her own mind. I stay out of her way because she hits and pinches. I can’t blame her.
One lady breaks out into opera. You never know when it will happen, or where, but she bursts out in glorious voice that resounds throughout the nursing home. I love her voice. It’s a joyful contrast to the moans from rooms of people I never see. Those voices of faceless fears and loneliness break my heart and I struggle to keep my face serene so no one will see my pity.
Aunt Marcy never planned on me being her helper. My sister-in-law had that job. But she opted out, hiding her cancer from us until she left. Aunt Marcy has no family left except my husband, and our children. For me, coming from what amounts to a family clan, I find this ‘aloneness’ heartbreaking.
Looking at Aunt Marcy again, I realize the beginnings of her dementia started years ago, and nobody recognized the signs. The paranoia, the bursts of anger, the inability to know directions. Getting lost in places that should be familiar. We all thought, it’s just Aunt Marcy. She’s always been this way.
She’s lost and nothing I say will bring her home. I can only reassure her; tell her I’ll get us where we’re going. I talk to her, joke with her, treasure every laugh I tease out of her. I love her memories; the glimpses into her early days even though I know I can’t trust those memories. Her reality is often an illusion given to her in dreams.
Her past is the heritage of my children. I desperately want those memories while she can share them. Catch them before they are completely gone. Because she’s lost. Every week, more rooms in her mind shut down. Her world becomes narrower, both in time and place. Her world is shrinking and mine, because of her, is expanding. Because I never would have chosen to step down Alice’s rabbit hole. Because of her, I’m facing my deepest, darkest fear.
I’m peeking at death, still afraid to face it full on. I’ve lost too many people I love. Lost a baby I never got to hold. Lost my parents; a sibling. As I age, more and more of my loved ones will travel to a place we all must follow.
The nursing home wraps me in a blanket of despair and sadness. I hear pleas for help; demands to go home. Aunt Marcy refuses to go into an assisted living situation that would give her more freedom. She refuses because somewhere in her mind, she knows the assisted living rooms are on the side that houses the dementia. She’s terrified of losing her mind even though it has already departed.
I’m not lost. Not yet. Maybe never. I will fight to my last breath to live. None of us know how many days we are given. The only control we have is how we spend those days. I refuse to waste mine in hopeless despair. Because of Aunt Marcy, I searched for my inner joy. I had to, to counteract the dark energy of the nursing home.
I surround myself with work that makes me happy. I create because creating is birth, and newness, and joy. I learn, because I will never have a better time to learn than right now. I spend time with my family because right now, they are here, and I want every minute of time with them that I can manage.
Live, live, and live some more. Chose a path, choose a journey. It doesn’t matter where. Nobody gets where they are going anyway. It’s all about the process. Nobody is ever lost. All roads lead to the same place. Live until you can live no more.