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March 23, 2021

Lily at Night Dementia/Loneliness/End of Life

Lily looks around the room that is now her “home” wondering how it came to be so. She finds herself in a foggy haze, asking her granddaughter, “Did my parents die and now no one can take care of me? Is that why I ‘m here?” Her sweet granddaughter, eyes pooled with tears, said, “No, Grandma. That isn’t why…Remember…” She retells the story that starts with Independent Living with memory issues and then Assisted Living with memory issues… and so on. Sheepishly, Lily shakes her head remembering  her own mother died in 1979 and she has lived a good long life since that time. She wonders how her mind can drift from here to there without so much of a nod of her head. Is everything really so loose in her brain that words and thoughts can slither around like the leftover orange jello at a potluck dinner?

Lily’s memories are like a flickering light. They shine brightly, then are gone. Her life has been so long and rich. She didn’t live it for herself and yet here she is. Twenty-two out of twenty-four hours she is alone with herself and her wrinkled up hopes. But mostly the shards of memories, scattered like prisms, waiting to reflect some light. A nineteen-year-old old who wanted to be a teacher. The twenty-six year old woman longing for the man who loved her more than his own life. A young mother of boys with crewcuts who loved to wrestle. The forty year old with three wild teens and a teaching certificate. How she loved the written word and the middle school students in their wooden desks waiting to absorb her vibrant and impassioned instruction. Her husband was a dreamer and she followed his dreams all the way to the rolling hills of Michigan where they turned a barn into a place where people came to find their souls.  She was his port in every storm, his ledger in every unaccounted vision, and the love that began and ended his days. His unsteady heart beat the cadence of their every day.  She was the steady beat to the altered rhythms of his wounded spirit. When he left her forever on the first day of January, she was strong enough to continue to be herself.  She knew she could, but never knew she would until he drew in that last breath, shuddering as he drew it in, then gasped out, and at last, became still.

Now it is mostly just herself and her skin folds, her aching heart, and her memory that is less dependable than a calm day in Kansas. She longs for it to be enough but she wants to hug and hold someone and say, “You are mine.” She does that to her daughter on her 30 minute sanitized  and masked visit, knowing it’s true but it’s also not. Her daughter, more her father than her mother, is always just a bit outside her reach in her own world of students, grandchildren, and friends.

Lily believes, with all her heart, in the goodness of God. She doesn’t strive too hard to reconcile what has happened to her at the end of this life with the tenants of her faith. She draws, rather, on the deep well of hope that comes to her as she reads the ancient texts in the whispery pages from the book that lies open on her lap. “Open my mouth, O Lord, and my mouth shall declare your praise.” Lily stands by those words and it’s that psalm she honors when she says, “But God is with me,” even as he despairs about the tiled hallways and long days that loom ahead of her daily. She declares she “doesn’t want to fuss” despite the blasé food and the plastic water bottle set before her each day.

In her day, Lily set a classy table. Each meal was an occasion, with candles, gathered flowers, and dishes that matched.  No ketchup bottles or stained pots on her table, no matter how simple the fare.  Lily bought beauty with each sprig of goodness she added as she gathered people around her table. Lily shakes her head at the memory of these days and wills herself to appreciate the green melamine bowl of applesauce that is dessert, placed down on a veneer table barren of beauty.

This life, she lives now and she wonders about it. How long will I live? Where are the people I love? When can I walk freely again in the sunshine? These questions fill her days.  Mostly, she hopes that whatever days she has left, she can maintain enough of herself to spread out all the love that is deep within, pulsating with desire to be released. She doesn’t want to hold any back. At night, Lily whispers, “Oh God, please take me into the night, gently and lovingly. “ Lily prays and her head falls down onto her chest in sleep.

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