The wealth of family I have is humbling and inspiring. Mom took care of her mother and Dad's mother when they needed care. They both suffered from severe dementia. Dad's mother thought Dad was her husband and Mom was flirting with him. She'd get very angry at Mom, who faithfully continued to take care of her. Mom has driven to see her brother in Reno when he was sick, flown to Hawaii to see her eldest sister several times, and has spent half of the last month with Aunt Shirley, helping at home, making plans with all three of my cousins, sitting by Shirley's bedside helping her eat. Such devotion to family is rare these days, except in my family. My sister Beth is just as nurturing as Mom, and my daughter shows promise to emulate them.
Mom and her siblings have always been close, and I have such happy memories of visits with cousins. Visiting the horses and playing chess with cousin Doug in Reno. The way that Aunt Margie's kids all laughed and teased one another and were always so fun and agreeable. Sitting on the floor and playing Tripoli with Shirley's three blonde daughters. I was a little intimidated by how beautiful, smart, and confident all three of them were, but it was impossible to feel too negative because they were always so nice. I don't have a single memory of any of them ever being less than perfect.
Mom will be 80 this summer, and Aunt Margie will be 89. I know everybody's life has to end eventually, but the prospect of losing any of these four extraordinary people is unbearable. Each of them has made the world a better place. Each has raised strong, healthy, happy kids. Each has educated and supported and contributed to their communities. Each has been there for the others in good times and bad. Each has made music, not just on pianos and organs and violins, but in the hearts of the hundreds of people they have touched with their generous spirits and loving natures.
Oh, how I wish everyone could be held in the loving arms of devoted family when ailments take their toll and the end of life looms grim and dark. The touch of a loved one's hand, an advocate fighting for the best care and comfort, the presence of those people who have known us our whole lives and are with us through thick and thin, sharing stories of youth together as age threatens our most precious memories. My heart aches for people whose families have deserted them, or who burned bridges they don't believe can be rebuilt, or who are the last survivors and find themselves utterly alone.
I'm grateful for the nurses and chaplains and hospital volunteers who try to provide comfort and care to lonely elderly patients. I'm grateful that we can share our food and clothing and a few dollars to help comfort people most at risk, living on the streets. I wish it were enough. I dream of communities that shore up each member, know their neighbors, reach out to everyone and leave no one behind. Of a united spirit that churches used to provide, as did small towns and adventuring pioneer parties.
We think we've grown past the need for one another with all our modern conveniences and easy escapes from personal connection, our busy-ness and competition and fevered quest for more stuff. We neglect our families and lose track of friends and make excuses and plan to do better when there's more time. We're embarrassed to smile at strangers or reach out to that new neighbor whose name we've already forgotten. We assuage our guilt with the belief that they're all doing OK and don't really need us. We convince ourselves we don't need them, either.
We have never needed one another more.