A Long Walk January 2, 2016Posted by TimTheFoolMan in death, Family, life, Love.
It’s about 3:00 AM, and my sister and I just finished helping our 94 year-old aunt make the trip to and from the bathroom. My aunt awoke around 2:15, needed help getting out of the recliner she now sleeps in, needed some help using her walker to navigate the 30′ trip (she’s fallen several times recently), and required both help and a bit of coaching to complete the return trip.
As you might surmise from the starting and ending times, we didn’t set any speed records on our trip. However, this isn’t written to complain about the early hour, the duration of the trip, or any inconvenience this represents to me.
Walking Through Life
My aunt is the oldest sister of my mom, and in recent years has become less and less able to move around as she used to. Like mom (who died in 2000), she was a clear product of farm life, with the physical and mental toughness that one expects from such. Her sometimes hard edge is in sharp contrast to the demeanor of my other aunt, 89, who up until this week has been the gentle, soft-spoken caretaker of her older sister.
Unfortunately, the younger sister became hospitalized this week with pneumonia, leaving my aunt with no caretaker. My sister and I, being the closest relatives, stepped in, and so here we are, staying with our aunt, who for so many years epitomized strength and self-sufficiency.
Here we have no WiFi network and limited TV channels, and are about 30-45 minutes away from our homes, but it feels much more remote than that would suggest. Perhaps because this home is where we spent many weeks in childhood summers, it feels as if we’ve been transported to a very distant place. Memories are rich and abundant, and not just because the walls are covered with pictures of our various relatives, including our parents.
I’m speaking of course for myself. My sister, who has been much better about visiting our aunts in recent years, may not be feeling the waves of nostalgia quite so clearly. Being male may also give me the luxury of emotions that my sister can’t play host to, given the less pleasant aspect of bathroom assistance that falls to her in this situation.
Maybe it’s some strange form of guilt then, causing me to recognize that once again, I’m both literally and figuratively walking with my aunt in these days. It hasn’t always been so, and I’m recognizing this morning the uniqueness of this opportunity in this phase of her life.
As we made the return trip from the bathroom this morning, I found myself wondering how many times my aunt had struggled this way with such a seemingly simple task. Has she been this weak for years and I just didn’t know? How many times had her younger sister needed to get up in the middle of the night to walk the steps I just walked?
When we arrived at the recliner, after our arduous journey, the look of gratitude on my aunt’s face was evident. If she held any thoughts of why I hadn’t visited often, or called regularly, it didn’t show. All I saw was the smile of one who is grateful. She hadn’t walked alone.
She was once more safely in her chair, no longer fearing a fall as she most certainly had during the trip. Her arms and legs had stopped quivering with the telltale combination of strain and fear that I’ve seen come with using a walker this way.
I walked alongside my dad in much the same way in the weeks leading up to his death.
This morning I am here in the dark, hoping for more sleep as I sit in the recliner adjacent to my aunt’s. Listening to her somewhat labored breathing, it’s unclear how many more walks I’ll have the opportunity to share with her, if any of those walks will lead to interesting and fun places, the way our walks had when I visited here as a child, or if they’ll be of the mundane variety of tonight’s. Most likely, we won’t be taking strolls down the country road to the local market. The market closed years ago and the road is now far too busy.
Even so, I’ll be glad we took a walk tonight. The path wasn’t busy, and we could take our time.