Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Nana is one of the most difficult people I've ever met.
She's 87 years-old.
She has Alzheimers.
She's passive aggressive.
She complains a lot.
She's often rude and critical.
She's been living with us for the last four months.

Today, Mom and Dad were both gone and Nana and I were going to have over 8 hours of quality time. Nana sat down to eat lunch as I was preparing my own. I wanted to make mine and run downstairs to hide and avoid interaction. But I didn't. I set my food down on the table next to her and she proceeded to ask me for the 3rd time in ten minutes, "What is that? (scrunched up nose) What are you eating?" I got up, walked around the corner, shook my fist at the ceiling, sought sympathy from Oscar (the family dog) and received none. So I took a deep breath, went back, and sat down.

What I hoped would be a 15 minute lunch turned into an hour conversation that made me look at Nana differently. She talked quite sadly about her poor health and how much she misses Papa who died in December. These are regular conversations. This is what she spends most of her time thinking about because she most of her days are spent at home alone when Mom and Dad both have to work. As I was listening to her list all of the things that were going badly, I asked, "Nana, what would make your life better?" She said she didn't know. I pried deeper. Nana is lonely.

Today, in her tears, I considered--possibly for the first time--what it would be like to walk in Nana's shoes. It's kind of like when I realized that once upon a time, my parents were 23 once too. It's easy to think they weren't. They've always just been my parents. Nana has always just been Nana, but she's human too.

What if at 87 years-old, my husband--the love of my life--died?
What if after 60 years of marriage--and love and passion and memories--I lost him?
What if I could no longer make decisions for myself?
Or go to the bathroom myself?
Or remember what I ate for breakfast?
Or my grand-daughter's name?
What if I couldn't drive or go where I wanted to go?
Or eat what I wanted to eat?
What if I had to take 15 different medications just to somewhat sleep, to keep my heart pumping, and to lessen the aching pain in my body?
What if I woke up one day and cell phones, computers, and the Internet had seemingly taken over and I missed the boat?
What if I felt homeless?
What if all of my brothers and sisters were dead, as well as most of my friends?

Up until the last year or so, Nana has been present. And feisty. She's hurt my feelings. She's left some scars. Now that she's more vulnerable and fragile and losing her memory, it's really hard to give her the mercy she deserves. She's spent so many years being difficult, it's hard to love her and help her when she's actually not trying to be difficult now.

Nana cried. Hard. And gasped for air as I reached across the table to hold her hand. She's scared. She's terrified. She's lonely. She misses Papa. So she sleeps a lot. Or reads. Or sleeps.

I've not spent much time considering the end of my life. I haven't had to. I'm 23. That seems so far away. But when I watch Nana, I realize that at the beginning and the end of life we are forced to be vulnerable and dependent on others. It's like life's setting us up. Giving us guidance and a nudge in the right direction from the beginning: "You're human. Take it easy. Lean on others. Forgive yourself."

Yet somewhere in the middle between 1 and 70, we become independent, self-sufficient, individuals. We dread the end of life because it feels like a cop out.
A giving up.
A compromise.
A sell out.
An embarrassment.
We are no longer what we were: our strength, our endurance, our careers, our memory, our health, our independence. Gone.
We are again infants.
And it humbles. Or angers. Or depresses. Or a host of other emotions.

Watching Nana confirms a huge lesson I've been learning for the past several years:
the value of authenticity.

Trying to maintain a "perfect-looking" life isn't a life at all. Honesty has saved my life and continues to. While completely terrifying at times, vulnerability and transparency are completely necessary. I want to live an authentic life where I am reminded often that I am only human. I am entitled to mistakes. I'm not perfect and never will be.

Nana reminded me today that I don't want to fight the future. I can't slow down the passing of time or the addition of wrinkles. I can however control my response to it. I am far from infallible and actually quite fragile.

I'm human and that's okay.
One day I'll die. And however that happens--the process or the last breath itself--I just want to feel human and whole.


Joelle said...

I just want to thank you for posting on the Unite blog that day. Since then I have followed your blog and found so much peace in the pieces you have written. You have helped another soul find some contentment.