There is a time that comes, sometimes brazenly and loud, but usually softly and unnoticeable, stealing up behind, whispering over one's shoulder. I remember when that time came for my great-grandmother. Dementia and a tired body slowly over took her and so I began to drive over to my grandma's house, whom she lived with, and take care of her several days a week. I remember bathing and feeding her. It was considerably hard at the beginning to intimately take care of someone who you've known forever, someone who had been healthy, physically and mentally, not too long before. Her mind came and went during those days. I still remember the time she panicked while I bathed her, yelling at me, "Get out of here you ugly boy!" I felt such pity for her; what horror there is in not being able to control yourself or your mind! "Nana, it's just me," I'd tell her. But, she didn't recognize me anymore.
A couple days ago she passed away. In her last days she had steadily declined, deteriorating rapidly, having contracted an appalling gum disease, creating abscesses which exuded blood constantly. She was a shadow, an almost literal shell of who she was, or used to be. On heavy medication and in a nebulous state of unconsciousness she seemed to wait, anticipating being released.
And so, finally she was.
From watching her life unwind over the years, and becoming acquainted with the residents at her nursing facility, and just from general observation, I find myself hopelessly disgusted; bitterly disgusted with degeneration. Hateful of entropy. Despising of broken, moth-eaten death.
And still, out of the frost distorted ground, I find pillars of courage standing, solemnly.
My mother spoke with many of the nurses who attended my great-grandmother and she re-counted to me their heroic biographies. One RN related that she grew up with a mother who was a nurse at a nursing home; she said her mother delighted in her work. Thus she grew up wanting to be a nurse and work there as well, because of her mother's example. Another nurse said,
"Some people love to work at birthing centers, with babies. But I prefer to work with the people leaving the world. It is just as much an honor to work with them as with those just entering the world. It is a privilege."
Surrounded by ugliness, that day when my great-grandma died, so much beauty shone around, that one could have been blinded by it. There was such a bright and colored contrast between death and darkness and the insatiable joy of loving another person. Why then is there cause for sadness, when such joy is painted like a infinite mural, teaching us how to really love?