Friday, January 7, 2011

Lives Lived

A man in his late 70's yet whispers to me about his loneliness as a child who suffered domestic violence.

She has white hair, her face is etched with 90 years of time yet her blue eyes sparkle as she recalls a Christmas as a child. "I got a red bicycle" she says. "It was beautiful."

She can't remember what she had for breakfast five minutes ago, she fights with her caregivers over getting dressed, but she tells me her favorite childhood memory. "We used to race to the top of the hill and climb the tower", "my best friend was Martha" she says. She smiles and for a moment, is back on the green hill and gone from this nursing home and her wheelchair.

A woman, does not know her children, does not know the time, yet screams as she is showered, screaming for her father not to touch her again.

This grandmother sits dignified in her chair yet with a furrowed brow, she tells me she is scared, she tells me her husband might find her still, "I'm afraid" she says, "He's going to hurt me again." Her husband has been dead many years, her family has never spoken about the violence, she never said a word to anyone but now, in the evening of her life, she tells me and I try to tell her that she is safe.

He is in a wheelchair, his hand shakes as he tries to feed himself and an aide spoons food into his mouth. On his head is a baseball hat with a military purple heart and his body bears a large scar he was given as a hero over seas. A photo on the wall shows a tall and muscular young man, movie star handsome, in his Army uniform. He likes to be called Captain.

A mother in her 90's wipes her eyes as she speaks of the death of her son. It was over 50 years ago but the pain of losing a child is still fresh, never to be forgotten, and she weeps and says her small boy visits her in her dreams.

A large and irritable man looks at me and his eyes fill and his chin trembles as he talks about his wife, gone these last 10 years, " I took care of her in her last days, she died of cancer you know" and I nod "you still miss her" I say, "everyday" he says, his voice breaking. "Everyday."

Pain and heartache, memories of loss long past but never forgotten, smiles and a step back to times of strength and beauty are these reminisences of a life well lived. I stand in awe of these teachers and listen to their lessons. These elders don't know they are teaching, all they know is that I am a kind face as they open their albums to me and their books of life, and with me, they are able to relive their joys and face their demons which may find some peace at last.