Friday, April 23, 2010

Aging

It's exceptionally hard getting older.
It's hard to realize your body isn't working the way it used to, healing as quickly from injuries, rising to the occasion like it once did.
It's infuriating to be told you cannot (should not) drive anymore. To have your keys taken away, and not for the intoxicated party night, but for good.
It hurts when your friends - the same age as you! - begin getting cancer, or dying of headache-turned-brain-tumors. It's horrifying when a loved one drops dead of a heart attack.
You can't believe it when the thought of going up that damn driveway hill with the garbage bin is exhausting, or your just don't feel like watering all the plants in the garden anymore.
When you realize your clothes look like the outdated relics of your mother's closet...

Aging sucks.

This is what I am learning as our parents start to enter the age of grief, shocking diagnoses from the doctor, and visits from friends who are now widows.

These are the things I think on as I work to tend the sick and dying every day, albeit in my administrative, secretarial way, at my Hospice job. People are sick and dying EVERY SINGLE DAY. I find myself saying in my head things like, "If only someone would die so it would free up the schedule a bit." These are the sick thoughts you have when you work in Hospice. These are the blow-off-steam moments that get you through the day. You find yourself so, so tired and worn out at the end of the week (like tonight). Until you realize, you have been surrounded by various stages of death all day, and lending every bit of compassion you have to suffering and grieving families who need it. And I'm not even the nurse.

Last night I found myself at the semi-annual memorial service Hospice holds for families members who have lost someone they loved. On my name tag, I wrote: "Allison Snyder" and under In Memory Of, I wrote "Larry Cox." Because the one you've lost doesn't go away after a year of prescribed grieving time. They are with you always, every day, in your thoughts and frustrations, memories and laughs.

In the service sat several dozen families - some with other family members, some alone (a spouse, a brother, a daughter). Tears were shed and laughs were shared. A beautiful choir sang three songs, each bringing you just a bit closer to your loved one and God (though they were very respectfully not religious). Several people looked me in the eye and did not look away during the service. I made myself keep returning their gaze. In grief, you long to connect, even with a stranger. You find yourself in this unlikely and miserable Club you didn't realize existed - the Club of Those Left Behind. There should be a bumper sticker, key chain, and a membership T-shirt. Instead, there is just a knowing look between stranger-friends that happens every few months (or years), the stories of love lost just on the tip of everyone's tongue, no matter what time has passed.

Afterwards, Hospice offered cookies, cheese and crackers, and juice...as if that could help. But in some way, it did. It is so normal to share a snack with others. And normal is what you crave like the dickens when you feel so lost, your world turned upside down and inside out, never to return to its previous glory.

I talked (listened) at length with a man who's brother-in-law had died in the last few months. He told me endless fishing stories (the tall tales I have heard all my life) of 4 ft Stripers and the night the boys caught 60 sharks off the shore, etc etc. I think he was channeling my Dad, who might have been coming through saying, "I'm still here in every ordinary way."

Aging brings the shadow of death with it, and we all feel that chill and try to run. There's no fight mechanism in place - it's all flight at the start. I am not changing, getting older, slowing down! I'll be damned if I ever give up my (insert your favorite passion)! I don't need anything but the cool, sweet earth and my fishing pole.

Oh, and you. And your support and kindness. And maybe a wipe of my chin where the kernel of corn has stuck and won't let itself free. Remind me, what year was it that we took that wonderful trip? Have you seen my glasses (that rest on my forehead)? There's nothing wrong with my head! Oh, you said "bread"?

Grace. Compassion. For others. For ourselves and this ever-changing body and spirit.

Grace from me, to you.

~Ally

3 comments:

Marie said...

Hospice do a wonderful service to those who are preparing to leave this plane of existence and to those who are preparing to say goodbye to their loved ones. Death is inevitable. It comes to each of us. If we are lucky we have the opportunity to say goodbye to those we love before it happens. None of us knows when that day will come. All the more reason to make each day count while we are here and to say all those things that need to be said, to dot all our i's and cross our t's while we can. This life is only preparation for what comes afterwards, and what comes after this is so much more wonderful and beautiful than we can even begin to imagine. Sending lots of love and hugs dear friend. xxoo

Scott and Allison Snyder said...

Thank you for your comment, Marie. Always good to hear the thoughts and heart of a friend. xo ~Ally

Charlotte said...

This piece on aging is very touching and very perceptive. You are wise beyond your years. Remember, all the grace and compassion that you are sending out also comes back to you.