Aging is so interesting. I started (re)watching House, M.D. today. I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed the Sherlock of medicine. Pilot episode, and my takeaways from it are wholly different than 15 years ago when I first watched it. Aging changes perspective. And thank gods, right? How utterly dull life would be if it didn’t.
Watching House reminded me of my mum because she loved the show. She died early into season 3 in 2006. I continued to watch thru all 8 seasons, even as it did what long running TV series tend to do, lose its edge. I did it because it made me feel connected to my mum. For years I held a tenuous connection thru a tv show and when it ended there was a finality to my mother’s death that hadn’t been before. Aging is so interesting, yes?
I am 58 years old. I’m far closer to my death than I am to my birth. Like every human each day brings me closer and farther away to those two things. The 2 universals of being human. Forget taxes, they’re hit and miss, but birth and death? Those two are guaranteed.
Aging piles on experiences, adding layers of uniqueness to my perceived self. Closer to death strips that uniqueness away, peeling back my self to the reality that I in fact am not unique. Neither are you. We’re born, we die. All of us. No uniqueness there. Yes, it’s humbling. At times the inevitability of it is somber. More than either of these it allows a freedom that closer to birth doesn’t. Not striving to be ever more unique each year is a relief, a blessing. Aging releases me, us, into just being human in whatever way we define that. The freedom to die like everyone else is oddly comforting. Aging is so very interesting.
I’m not up for details of the complicated nature of our relationship at this point, but my brother Scott was dead within a week of being told he had stage IV cancer. (DOD: March 3rd, 2017) He lived in CA. His remains were donated to research, then he was cremated and the ashes shipped to Chicago where my sister lives. We rendezvoused there and held a service this past Saturday. I returned yesterday with him.
Welcome home, Scott.
Is it me? Is it you? My thoughts run frantically after each other, twisting in confusion. I search for the path to the center. Was there a minotaur, or simply a mirror? When does a hospice worker get to say, “nope, not you”? Do you get to say bugger off to your calling? When seeking advice from the Ancestors, why do they snort-laugh and shrug?
Answers in order: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Whenever. Sure. Because they can.
If I can find a way to decipher my feelings around the situation it will all become clear, yes? Does a soul-cleanser get to say, “Not my job. I’m not the only Worker here”? Are there guns involved, and if so, what caliber? Will regret be involved? Does that change anything?
Answers: Same as the first set, choose as appropriate.
Decisions that shift hourly are exhausting. Life is exhausting. Death is exhausting. Sleep will be a temporary relief.
I have a hospice client I’ve been visiting since March. She is on a slow walk to death. She is unhurried about the process in all ways. She is directing it. Never doubt that the one who is doing the business of dying has a say in the progress. Every person I’ve sat with has shown this to be true. Not a stop to it, mind you, but the final puff of breath doesn’t come without consent.
Each week there is a little less fat under her skin as her illnesses take from her more than she can manage to replenish. She gets chilled easily so she wears thick clothes, lap blankets, and fingerless gloves pulled halfway done her hands. I see the upper half of her fingers, and I see the bones more clearly each visit. This week her gloves were pushed back to her wrists.
It was like an anatomy lesson laid out in topographic relief across the backs of her hands. Almond and purple tissue paper skin creates the ground with raised blue roads running the length, winding around knuckle-boulders as tendons stretch taut between unnaturally long looking bones. As she drifted in and out of naps I looked at her hands, fascinated that they could be reduced to their base elements, yet still function to pick tiny bits of of fluff from her blanket, grab my hand and pull it to her lips to give a kiss, then entwine her fingers for our prayer before I leave.
The human body is an amazing thing, and it stays just as amazing during the final slide to the door that we all go through. Blessings to the hands, and all they have done, and all they continue to do, even as they waste away to resembling the model strung up on poles in physiology labs. Blessings to the hands of the dying, offering poignant visuals to become memories for those who will remain.