Quality of Life

For years, your family members and friends have been praying for the same thing:  that you would have a good quality of life until the very end of your life.  They prayed that you would remain alert and responsive with mental focus and physical mobility.

In short, they prayed for you to stay exactly as you were until one day you just died.

That is not happening.   

You no longer sit the chair you have occupied for years.  Now, your days are spent in a hospital bed in your home.

You no longer speak the words of wisdom we have all come to cherish.  Now, most of your words are in the form of questions, asking where your daughter is each time you feel her leave the room.

You no longer shuffle around the house, in search of your beloved puppy.  Now, the tiny dog sits above your head on the bed most of the time.

And I wonder about those prayers.  Some would say that they were not answered, that your quality of life has decreased, and that you would not have wanted to live on in this condition.

But maybe you are experiencing a new kind of quality of life.

Born into a family of fifteen children, it is unlikely that you ever received the amount of individual attention you now welcome.

Your childhood spent on a ranch on inhospitable land in the far northern reaches of our globe, where your family made and grew every single item they used (aside from sugar and salt, you used to remind me), your grueling physical work is long behind you now.

A sister, wife, mother of four, grandmother, and great grandmother, you have cared for countless people, from babies to elders.  It is your turn to be cared for now, to be brought hot tea and warm toast, to be bathed and pampered, to be sung to and held.

As a rural Sunday school teacher, you traveled hundreds of miles every summer in that northern land, teaching children about God and love.  And, later, as the wife of an Anglican priest, you traveled around the country doing the same.  Today, we travel to you; and while just a few months ago you were still conducting those teachings about God and love with words, now you mostly share your lessons silently, through your presence.

The other day, as I was sitting with you on your bed, you struggled to sit upright.  You had something important to say to me.  I held your hands in mine as you tried to find the words, “Sometimes . . . sometimes. . . sometimes. . . I feel. . . very . . . very . . . very. . . very. . .”

This went on for quite some time; that sentence still remains unfinished.  And at first that made me sad.  I felt loss – my loss of your beautiful, insightful words.  Then, I realized that this interaction was so similar to countless ones I had with my children when they were toddlers and just learning to speak.  All of their attention – and mine – was focused on the present moment, trying to communicate and be understood.  While at times these occurrences may have been frustrating to them, they were also vibrant and lively and full of focus.  Just like with my children, I felt your words rather than understood them, as though our hearts were speaking instead of our mouths.

Isn’t that quality of life?

Shortly before it was time for me to leave, you again sat up in bed and reached for my hands.  You looked me in the eye, smiled, and said, quite clearly, “I do believe it is summer.”

I do, too, my treasured mentor and friend.  

All your winters are over now.  There is no more grueling work, no more travel in harsh conditions.  Your time spent making and doing and caring for others is now finished.  Perhaps you are even complete with all those spoken words of wisdom.

I do believe it is summer, indeed.