A while back, Jonathan Pierce at A Tippling Philosopher suggested this series and I figured, “Why not? Writing about death can be fun and exciting.”
I have to admit, I’ve considered the possibility of death quite a bit these past two years. Sure, cancer can highlight mortality, but mostly I’ve pondered it as I’ve watched those around me wrestle with issues concerning the grim reaper. Mostly, I’m amazed at how slow death progresses… taking over an inch here, an inch there, until the inevitable happens.
But lately I’m haunted by Eva (names and places have been changed to protect the innocent).
“Eva” moved into “Sunset Town” right after her seventieth birthday. She loved the assisted living facility. They cooked her meals, helped clean her apartment, drove her to doctor appointments, they lived up to their motto of “Showing Christ’s love in a safe environment.” And love her, they did.
She lived there fifteen years, they always cared for her in a first class fashion… as long as she could afford it.
At age 85, Eva found herself without a dime and homeless.
At that point, the fine folks at Sunset Town continued “loving” their residents but Eva was cast out. She eventually found herself in a county facility for the elderly. Turns out the staff there, despite not proclaiming any particular religious bent, was able to care for her despite their reluctance to pull religion into the mix.
So, what does this little story have to do with death?
You see, I unfortunately got to witness Eva’s death, one inch at a time.
The first hit came when she couldn’t handle living in her own home anymore. She had to sell her beloved farmstead. The inches she ceded towards her death that day hit hard. She cried leaving her familiar kitchen. A lifetime of memories were eclipsed in one afternoon as the auctioneer sold her possessions, strangers dug through the myriad of treasures she accumulated throughout the years, and a price point was placed on her memories, her mementos, her life. She lost a few more inches when they sold her house to the highest bidder.
At first Eva liked Sunset Town. Family visited. Minister came weekly. She did what she could to create a family in her new “home.” But, as the years wore on, Eva’s inches evolved into feet as friends moved on, family got busy, the minister visits became sporadic.
More and more, Eva found herself alone. She made the best of it, busying herself with doctor visits, the activities program, until she slowly but surely rebuilt her social network.
Finally, one day the head of Sunset Town visited Eva’s apartment and informed her that her cash was running low. The home she’d spent building for the last fifteen years was evicting her. Eva ceded many inches as she uprooted herself and was placed in the county facility.
“I thought I’d live in Sunset Town until I moved into a nursing home,” she told me, “I don’t understand how they could kick me out after I’d lived there 15 years. I evidently gave them every cent I had. I thought they were Christian.”
Luckily the county facility was as very nice. The multi-cultural staff treated Eva with tremendous respect. The county appointed social worker helped her work through her sadness after being uprooted. A kind Activity Assistant filled in the gap when Eva’s church friends (including the minister) no longer visited.
However, when Eva felt abandoned by her particular version of a deity, nobody could help. Fact was, her lifelong church membership was no guarantee of any courtesies once she aged. “The bible says god will never leave me or forsake me,” she’d say, “but I feel alone, forgotten, and worthless.”
Eva ceded her remaining inches while being tended to by a muslim nurse, a jehovah’s witness aid, and an atheist orderly… not exactly the death team she envisioned when she moved into Sunset Town. But these folks demonstrated genuine human kindness.
I suppose in the end, that’s the best we can hope for.