Senseki: At last I am leaving: in rainless skies, a cool moon… pure is my heart
It is Thursday, my day to visit a 92-year-old man as his hospice volunteer. My visit is a labor of love that I have treasured for the past 15 years. To me, there is no greater service than to visit him, love him, and keep him company in his last days.
I pull up to the assisted living facility and I am welcomed by the “greeters” who are sitting comfortably, walkers close at hand, ready for their day watching all who walk in and out of the facility. They smile and nod, mostly hoping for some excitement. The smell of cookies baking fills the air and one can only hope they feel like maybe they are back at home. This IS their last stop and I am so acutely aware of this whenever I go to a facility. I want to touch them, hug them all, this lovely culture of seniors who live these lives of solitude away from the rest of the world.
I will call him Arthur, as in King Arthur, because his real name has a sound of royalty to it. Arthur was born in 1921 and blind now, but he is all there with a compassionate and loving heart for people. As I make my way through the maze of hallways I come to his room, gently knock on his door, peek my head in and say, “ Hi, Arthur it’s Nina. Do you remember me from last week?”
“Of course I do,” he says confidently.
“Are you up for a visitor?” I ask.
“Oh, yes! Please come sit down.”
Arthur has on a jacket, a beanie on his head, and covered in blankets up to his neck with the heater blowing full steam. I pull up a chair and the visit begins. I kick off my shoes, sit Indian-style in my chair, and settle in like I am getting ready to hear the greatest story ever told.
Arthur speaks of his son a lot today. He is so proud of his accomplishments and as I sat there and listened, I thought about my own life. Here is the thing…… what truly matters most is how well do you love? Are you sharing love daily? Do you say I love you? A touch, a squeeze, sparkle that love everywhere just like Tinker Bell and her fairy dust, do it daily. Make your mark; it’s what matters most. I picture myself at 92 talking about my sons, grandchildren and maybe great grandchildren.
Arthur says, “My wife, she loved children. Oh, she did.”
I smiled although he cannot see my expressions, my eyes glistening with tears. But I know he feels my warm heart. When he speaks of his wives, one for 40 yrs and the other for 30. Imagine that! Married 70 years of his life!
I asked him another important love question, “Arthur, tell me what was your favorite dish your wife made you?”
His face begins to change, another smile emerges, and I can see him going back to that time as though he could almost taste it.
“Lentils, oh, I love lentils and no one could make them like her. They tried to give them to me here and I told them, please don’t ever give me lentils again because they are nothing like my wife’s.”
These simple pleasures like home-cooked food and the love of children are just an example. As you read, this doesn’t it bring loving thoughts to you? In the end, these memories are like gold, and these are the memories that keep us going as we get closer to the end. They warm our hearts, put smiles on our faces and remind us of the love given and received. Our precious lives go by so quickly we usually don’t realize this until mid-life or, perhaps for some, later than mid-life.
When I saw Arthur today lying in his bed, I asked him how he was feeling. He tells me that he is good and that he is so fortunate because at 92 he has no pain in his body like some other folks do. He tells me how important it is to be positive all the time and that there is no reason to be any other way.
In old age, death comes slowly when people are in assisted living and, believe me, I have met many that are not like Arthur. Arthur has a light about him. I feel his family members who have passed on close by, they are waiting for him to come home. He knows he is going home, too, and is not afraid. He is not suffering because he is not resisting. That’s the secret in dying well you know, even if you are young and not 92— know it’s coming. Resistance to life IS what causes pain and suffering. Embrace it— all of it—and love well.
It was time for Arthur to go to lunch and he said, “The time went by so fast with you.”
I said, “I think next time I will come and sit with you while you eat lunch. I hear you are at the table for a bit.”
He said, “ I have to eat everything on my plate and since I can’t see it, it takes a while.”
So, I said, “Okay, then lunch it is. ”
He smiles and I squeeze his hand.
I leave his room and make my way down to the lobby, making sure I give the greeters a little squeeze of the hand or talk about the lovely colors they are wearing today. The smell of cookies still permeates the air and I am so glad they have that warm cozy home- baked smell.
I make my way out the door and I see a lovely woman, perhaps in her early 80’s, sitting on a bench, her face turned toward the warm sun, her knees are pulled up, and I swear I see her as a young woman of 30 lounging on the beach, wind blowing through her hair. It’s just skin, you know, that looks different. That same young spirit resides in all of us. The best part is when you die it goes with you, and so does all the love.