I have one of those lifetime friends. You know, the kind that may be distant but yet always in your heart. The kind that, no matter how long it’s been since you were face to face, the conversation picks up just where it left off. I am especially blessed, because my forever friend is very, very wise. She is caring for her elderly father-in-law (who is in his 90’s) in her home, and we are caring for my failing 94-year-old mother in ours. One day she described to me how she was trying everyday to give her dear one moments of DIGNITY and JOY.
I’ve thought of those two words a lot since she shared the thought with me. One day she described using an egg carton to start some seeds with “Granddad.” She was anticipating his joy at watching the seedlings sprout and then enjoying the blossoms as they matured and bloomed. She often spoke of having him accompany her on short walks and short errands, just to get out and break up the day.
We enjoyed much of the same when Mom first moved in with us. Thanksgiving and Christmas were productions, with her first “adult” Christmas stocking hanging on the mantel. She pondered the gifts she would give. The girls all got pearls–not the real kind, but pretty nonetheless. She gave treasured coin collections to the grandsons. She made sure to have some winter gloves and a ski mask for my hunter husband. There was joy.
In the spring we drove to Wye Mountain here in Arkansas to enjoy the fields of daffodils. She loves blooming plants and the variety of daffodils amazed her. Even as we took a wrong turn down a dirt road and traveled through a somewhat questionable area on the wrong side of the mountain, there was joy.
Then things changed. Her mind began to slip ever more quickly. And her frail, stooped, crooked back caused ever more pain. We still try for some joy. She has a tiny flower garden with potted plants just outside the bedroom window that she looks out for much of her day. There’s a Gerbera daisy with bright yellow blooms and a fancy begonia with frilly pink blossoms. And her bird feeder–through which an inordinate amount of birdseed flows, for both the birds and the squirrels. She loves the “red birds” and says she never knew there were so many little wrens.
Now it seems it is time to focus on dignity. She only allows me to help her with her shower, and I guess that’s an example of “turn about-fair play.” After all, she bathed me all those years. She eats her breakfast and lunch in her bed. She says her back is so much more comfortable propped there. But she comes to the table for family dinner. And very slowly and carefully helps clear the table and carefully wipes the table and wants to help dry anything that has to be handwashed. We used to gently protest but I’ve decided that helping clear the meal is a way to allow her dignity. It’s how she cared for her family all those years.
And dignity, of course involves physical comfort, freedom from pain and anxiety and the night terrors she used to have. Hospice is helping with that and doing a fine job. Today after I showered her and trimmed toenails and fingernails she lay on her bed and said, “Oh, that feels so good.” I straightened the room and left her to nap. And I felt good, too.
Dignity and joy. Remember those words. I always will.