An acquaintance of ours I used to work on political campaigns with, I’ll call her Anna, was found dead in her house a few weeks back and Eleanor Rigby is haunting me.
DH and I had visited her just a few weeks or so beforehand on a “welfare check,” at the bidding of another friend. She clearly was suffering confusion about money and property and probably early dementia, but she seemed to have her house organized, her animals well cared for, her medications lined up, she was clean and dressed…she had no physical complaints except a rash that bothered her. We asked if she had considered living with other people at an assisted living facility and she answered that she would not leave her dogs. I gave her our doctor’s phone number to see about the rash, and we were hoping our doctor would get a better idea what her needs were. I kept calling to follow up and getting no answer. Finally we called the sheriff who reported that she had died. Alone. A neighbor had asked for a welfare call about the time we went over and the sheriff had thought she might need help but was not committable. And then again in a few weeks when she was never out and about the neighbors called the sheriff.. This time she had died, her dogs had not been able to get out or to eat or drink – they were taken to a shelter. She would SO not have wanted her dogs uncared for and I can’t imagine the mess the sheriff found. It must have come on suddenly. Her sister (in Germany) would handle her affairs. She was really alone in the world. My worst nightmare.
DH is a singer and we perform for retirement communities, including Alzheimer’s units. And I ask myself, what value is your life, what is your purpose, when you can’t even remember your own name nor your closest family, and you sit all day, diapered, medicated, breathing but not really living? Even family rarely visit – what’s the reward when you don’t even know who they are? How do people cope with the losses along the way? I don’t want to imagine. And what is the purpose of a life after usefulness? That’s my second worst nightmare as regards aging. Sitting somewhere, diapered and locked in my own world, not making sense of anything, not knowing anyone, no wisdom even for myself, a burden to everyone around me. And using up my kids’ inheritance as I sit there.
I have not withdrawn into depression, nor am I sitting on a pity pot. Those foes I know, and this is not that. I am wrestling with my shifting purpose as I grow older and whether in the end it will have made any difference to anyone that I have lived. I know, I pour more Love into the Universe and there is that much more love and transformation. I am part of a huge wave that way. But will it matter to anyone in particular?
I have been questioning my purpose now that I am so much less active in my community. I don’t drive (poor vision) and I don’t talk on the phone much (poor hearing), I don’t work (too slow), I don’t work on charity boards or political campaigns as I did 10 years ago (no energy) and when you don’t see people for a time, when you are no longer part of each other’s lives, you are mostly forgotten. I’ve done it myself. Will anyone even remember me? Will my living have made any difference? Will if have mattered to anyone at all that I have lived?
I tell people I have lived at least 7 different lives during this one, with completely different locations, roles, friends and interests. It’s probably more. So I fully understand that people’s lives are continuing along with work, family, hobbies etc., following their dreams, building their families, even including my sons who live in other states. They don’t really know me. Sometimes I fantasize that they come to my funeral and find out who I was and wish they had sent more time with me because i was interesting after all. Then, what if no one still knows me any more? It has happened to me many times with people I was close to at one job or during one particular period in my life, that when one of us moved on, we built new friendships in our new location and the old friendship just fell away. We just lost track of each other. It’s just a natural part of the way we live nowadays, separated from family and friends by distance.
So, I have been thinking about value and purpose, mine, typing away in my recliner here in my house on the desert. I understand I have been given a grace which many never get, to prepare myself spiritually for death. Which could be 30 years in the future. Gradually I have understood what it is to be “in the world but not of the world.” I am honored to have been given this grace. But what if I lost my capacity to understand or to communicate? How could I maintain the practices that keep me centered and sane?
I don’t have an answer, just a question.