Thursday, May 6, 2010

On Beauty and Sadness

In Our Back Yard
Photo by RuthAnne

There is beauty and light in the world, even when our world is for a time painted gray and black. Today I send all the beauty of the world to my mother who lives 8 blocks away from us in a nursing home (Palm Village) here in Reedley CA. 

Today she is sad. Her youngest brother Calvin passed away this last weekend from bladder cancer. He was 85, the baby of her birth family--the Hollands.  Along with her grief over his passing comes distress because her own body had not allowed her to be there with him at a time when she yearned to be, if only to pat his hand. But not only was my mother too infirm to travel to be with him at the end of his life, she had also been unable to carry on much meaningful conversation with him by phone because of her hearing loss.

My mother is 93, the eldest of three siblings.  Both of her younger brothers are gone now. The middle child, Jack, died of mesothelioma (caused by exposure to asbestos) a couple of years ago.

My grandfather, my mother, my grandmother holding Uncle Calvin, Uncle Jack.
During the last few days of his life, I helped her call Uncle Calvin, as she was not able to navigate the computerized instructions of cell phone voice mail systems. For one thing, she can't hear them. And, when she can, she doesn't know the lingo. So I dialed the phone and hand it over to her. The conversations were short. They both tired quickly.

He would say a few words to her and she would answer, "Could you say that again, Cal? I didn't quite get that," or "Please eat something, dear, so you can at least keep your mind working."

Uncle Cal was unable to eat, but still had his wit and his humor. "Why don't you get her some earphones?" he said to me the last time he could talk on the phone. Of course! An obvious solution for an old Georgia Tech grad who engineered much of the city of Fremont, California, during his lifetime. But my mother loathes anything electronic, anything you can't dial a number on and put your ear to.

The earphones became a moot point, anyway, because two days later when we called he couldn't talk to us. The hospice nurse held the phone to his ear while my mother said goodbye. "Just know I love you, dear," she said. "I'd be right there with you during this time if I could!" When I took the phone back, I heard a sound and at first thought he was trying to say something, but then thought it sounded more like an attempted chuckle. There are times when no words are needed.

Sunday morning after he passed, I went to tell my mother. She hunched into her wheelchair, forsaken and small, as she cried. She's lost her husband (my father) to pancreatic cancer, both her parents, one brother to mesothelioma, and now her youngest brother. That's how it is for the the oldest living generation of today. They lose one relative and then they lose another, until, finally, someone is the the only one left.

But maybe it's a blessing of nature that our elderly often sink into a stupor that numbs them to such horrors, that blurs the wracking pain of a deteriorating skeleton, and blots out memories they would just as soon forget. Maybe its best their dementia lets them sleep in their wheelchairs for hours while waiting for someone to take pity and change their briefs. My mother fights this plague with a vengeance, though, and refuses to acquiesce in spite of the pain. The price she pays is that reality sears itself into her consciousness with stark clarity.

The world contains a lot of pain but there is so much beauty for the taking. Today I send ALL of the beauty to my mother in a prayer. I send lots of IN YOUR FACE BEAUTY to both her and to my Uncle Calvin's family!

                                                                                                                                              Photo by Jim