When good is near you, when you have life in yourself, it is not by any known or accustomed way; you shall not discern the foot-prints of any other; you shall not see the face of man; you shall not hear any name;—— the way, the thought, the good, shall be wholly strange and new. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Can you remember a moment in your life when you had life in yourself and it was wholly strange and new? Can you remember the moment when you stopped walking a path of someone else, and started cutting your own?
Write about that moment. And if you haven’t experienced it yet, let the miracle play out in your mind’s eye and write about that moment in your future.
(Author: Bridget Pilloud)
Four years ago my maternal grandmother with whom I had a very close relationship passed away. Her passing was a long time in coming and was not unexpected. She had been sick for some time and could be seen slipping from us over the course of several years. Her death was complicated by the many physical health issues associated with the cruelty of Alzheimer’s disease.
My grandmother and I had a special bond. I was her first grandchild and as a result she doted over me. From the time I was a small boy I could recall doing many things with her and learning many things from her. On Saturday’s I could be found at her house completing yard work. I often found spending time with my grandparents to be more fun than spending time with friends. I was proud of my grandparents and my relationship with them.
My grandfather had passed away twenty years before. I cut the grass, edged the lawn along the sidewalk and driveway and trimmed the hedges which surrounded her house like a moat made of green plants. She would often join me in these tasks. This made these tasks that much more fun and special to complete. I recall her walking out of the house, wiping her hands in her brightly printed apron in her hand an opened bottle of orange or grape Crush. I knew she had been inside the house baking something. When the tasks were complete, I would join her on her porch for another bottle of Crush and some of the homemade cookies which were now sitting on a cooling tray in the kitchen. We would talk. I would ask her questions about her youth. I am a history buff and was always intrigued by stories of the guy who would walk the neighborhoods in his horse-drawn cart filled with large blocks of ice-covered with straw to prevent melting. She would tell me how her father would purchase ice to keep cold the family’s groceries. I would drift off thinking how the times have changed and in many ways how the times were much simpler.
When my grandmother’s health grew increasingly worse it became clear she required more care than my parents and other family could provide. A difficult decision was made and she was moved into a nursing home. I felt sad during visits with her. During because moments of lucidity she would cry and ask, “Why can’t I come home to live with you? I promise I won’t be a bother.” I found a deep need to turn away so she would not see my tears. Many of my favorite memories from this time were the Sunday afternoons sitting with her and my wife in the nursing home’s solarium. My wife brushed her hair and paint a new color onto her fingernails. She loved red so red it was. I sat and simply held the hand which wasn’t being worked on. On one occasion my wife looked at me and said, “Please say something to her.” I looked at my grandmother and what was left was but a shell of the person who I had known. Life remained but her personality had been taken away. I looked at my wife and replied, “I only need to hold her hand and rub the back of it. She knows I am here.”
When my grandmother finally left us, I had the luxury of being there with her. I had spent the majority of the previous evening with her. As I sat with her watching her breathing becoming increasingly irregular and shallow, I thought of the teachings in the Buddhist book, “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.” I recalled the passages relating to the various stages of death and made a concerted effort to ensure my grandmother passed successfully through those stages. I wanted her death to be a peaceful one. We in the West struggle with the passing of a loved one. Memories of my grandfather’s passing over twenty years earlier saw me being removed from the church during his funeral. The only way I can say it is “I lost it.” I had never had a loved one die. My denial was so strong it would not allow me to believe he would no longer be there. I had to admit my relationship with him, at least on the level we understand had ended.
My grandmother’s passing was, on some levels was easier, not because her illness gradually consumed her. My grandfather had been sick for several months. During that time I watched him waste away and succumb to lung cancer inflicted by his incessant smoking. My grandmother’s passing was easier because of my maturity. I knew she would go to a happier place and intrinsically understood this. She would be pain-free and at rest; her memory restored and her relationship with my grandfather rekindled.
My grandmother’s death was strange and new to me. Maybe not her death but my response to her death. My response to her death challenged my belief system and I saw its strength. I allowed myself to move forward this time without the rationalizations and justifications which clouded my attempts to manage my grandfather’s death.
The second part of this prompt “Can you remember the moment when you stopped walking a path of someone else, and started cutting your own” was rather easy to manage. I have chosen not to recount it here as I have written about it just one week ago. The link below will take you to that post.