A post from my blog:
If this photographic journal
does not touch you, you must be one cold-hearted SOB.
What is my obsession with old people and death lately anyway?
After I finished reading Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom, I watched the movie
on YouTube, then I watched the Ted Koppel interviews
. What else can I say about them other than this: I feel as though I have a piece of Morrie in my heart now.
It's caused me to reflect quite a bit on my relationships with the old people I've known who've passed my dear and beautiful grandmother on my father's side who died from cancer in 2001, my great-grandmother and great-grandfather on my mother's side, mean old Mrs. Fox, that crotchety old woman I used to take care of who used to hide her teeth and her hearing aids because she was afraid the black caretakers would steal them all of whom left an extraordinary impression on me in different ways. For the whole of my life thus far, I haven't known that many old people who've been at death's door and I've always felt a bit fortunate for that because it's so hard to say good-bye to the people you care about.
I don't see my surviving grandparents very often because they live hundreds of miles away, but when I do, I can't help but notice them growing older and gray, more frail, less steady on their feet, their bodies tiring and bruising easily. I worry that the time I have to be near them is growing shorter and shorter and it saddens me, especially when I ask myself how well I really know them. If I had the courage to ask, would they share their life stories with me? Would they amaze me? Shock me? Thrill me?
After my grandmother died, my grandpa shared a photo album with me. Inside were many black and white pictures taken while they were still young. She was dolled up with lipstick and curls as was fashionable at the time; he was a dapper sailor in the Navy. Then next there were pictures of their young family, my father as a child, my aunt in a hand-made dress and white gloves, the photos retouched with hints of color. Each turned page became brighter and more vivid as camera technology advanced with the years and then I started seeing pictures of my siblings and I pasted inside. There was one of me on my grandpa's lap, one of the only times I can remember him with a beard. And there's the one of my sister and I, wearing little dresses with white frilly smocks that my grandma sewed herself.
The last time I saw her, she was laying in a bed that Hospice had set up in the living room. My sister and I went together to visit her. We knew she didn't have much time left. She urged us to take the photos of us in those pretty little dresses that had always hung on their wall. My sister started crying saying, "No. No, Grandma. You keep those for now." And even though she pressed us again to take them, I couldn't stand the thought of walking over and pulling those pictures down off the wall. Why? It was what she wanted! Why didn't we simply do what this frail and dying woman asked? Because to do so would have been to admit that she wouldn't be around much longer to see them there. It broke our hearts. We just didn't want to say good-bye, didn't know how to, we simply couldn't.
Thinking about Morrie and the way he died, surrounded by his family and loved ones, and reading the comments Phillip Toledano wrote about his aging father causes my heart to ache when I think of my own severed family ties. I don't know if I'll share those last moments with my mother and father when their time has come
and I know it will
someday. I like to make-believe that there's plenty of time to make amends, for hearts to change, for old and fresh wounds to heal. Alas, time moves ever forward. There's goals to achieve, places to be, deadlines to meet, children to raise. A wise man once said, "Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans."
My father used to play his guitar at a bistro when I was a little girl. There was a song called The Dutchman
that was one of my favorites, one I requested over and over again, about an old dying man. The chorus goes like this:
Let us go to the banks of the ocean
Where the walls rise above the Zuiderzee
Long ago I used to be a young man
And dear Margaret remembers for me
I can almost hear my father's beautiful voice singing those haunting melodic lyrics to the strumming of his instrument. The memory takes me right back to the days of my youth when I'd sit on the floor in front him, mesmerized by the movement of his fingers on the fret board. I sometimes wish I could hear him perform that song just once more.
Over the last few years I've joked with my husband that I should put an ad in our local newspaper that reads something like "Adult woman seeks wise adoptive parents for sound advice and an occasional birthday card." I wonder if anyone would bother to reply. In a world in which we're all so busy chasing our own tails, trying to make ends meet, hectically running from here to there, I doubt it very much.
I guess my recent obsession with old-age and dying is really a coming-to-terms with the fact that life is short (for each and every one of us) and the realization that all we have in this world that we can really call our own is the love we have for one another.
I know it's unlike me to write such long entries. I didn't really set out to do so and it's getting late now. Michael and my daughters retired hours ago so I guess I should follow soon. In closing I'd like to leave you with this poem that to me seems very apropos
To Make a Bed and Lie In It
The wind will dip into the fields where I played
The dust will collect in the places I've lain;
It's the love we've deserted for beds we have made
Out of wrongs, out of sins that we can't rectify
Until one day, we're tired, and in them must lie
Still, the loss I feel never will fade
(If it would, it might be all too late, I presume,
To dust off empty beds in a light-barren room).
The stars and the moon insolently glow,
While cragged, the forest-line casts its shadow
On the face of a father I may never know,
Who stands with one toe on the bank of the Light
With the other foot firm in the darkness of night,
But the loss of whom I'll not outgrow
(If I could, it might be all too late, I presume,
To dust off empty beds in a light-barren room).
For a foretaste of foresight I'd give my last dime
To forget the foray of memories, unkind,
I'd forsake the stars and the moon in good time.
But since Time can't be blamed for what must unfold
I'll wait 'twixt the banks for your love till I'm old
And I'll willingly lie in the bed that is mine
(If I do, it might not be too late, I presume,
To dust off empty beds in a light-barren room)
For Time and her seasons will quaintly resume
And she may forgive while preparing your tomb,
But by then it shall be all too late, I presume
To dust off empty beds in a light-barren room.
"Love or perish" - Morrie Schwartz
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