Over time we all reach the fringes of our life . . . . Good days and bad. Days of awareness and days lost in the fog of confused memories, people “known” but not remembered with an intimate knowledge that all that we have known is slipping and fading into that next chapter of our ultimate existence . . . .
I serve a group of folks passing through this stage with the sure knowledge they are not that far ahead of me in the “race”. Once a month or so I take them communion, sit and chat, hold their hands and pray, comfort where I can . . . . Saturday was another such day for me.
Delores is now widowed with kids, grandkids and a very comfortable apartment in our local assisted living community. I provided this same service for years for her and her husband until his kidneys, heart and a weakened body had simply had enough. His loss is still felt by her. She’s the “healthy one” in my group – some problems and macular degeneration take their toll but our conversations are light, filled with shared news of kids, family, friends . . . . It’s a good talk. Communion and shared prayers remind us both of the purpose of my visit – yet final fringes are still distant for her . . . . they are there, yet not pressing . . . .
Roberta lives a few doors down the hallway. My knocks and doorbell rings remain unanswered. Finally I open the door and see her sleeping in her rocker – at least I hope it’s sleep. I talk to her, slowly raising my voice so as to not frighten her. Eyes flutter open, a small smile appears and tremors begin to take control of her body. They are worse than the last time, she looks drawn, tired . . . . Her hearing has also declined again and as I read the gospels for the day I have to speak up, go a bit slower and talk directly at her. “Those were lovely readings” she says, her smile back. Communion followed by the Our Father while holding her hands finish the “official visit” while fetching a glass of juice and the TV remote ends the personal side. Roberta’s fringes are becoming more and more tattered yet there is a gentle acceptance of what is surely coming down her path. . . .
Barb is leaned in her recliner in the TV room. This is her normal spot surrounded by the bustle of the facility and sounds of everything from the Three Stooges to Jeopardy. There is constant stimulation. Our conversations have grown much shorter over the last couple of years. While there is perkiness in her voice, the depth and understanding of the conversation has faded. Communion and prayers make for a short stay, yet both of us seem satisfied. The fringes of her life are diminishing slowly, yet as with all of us, it is a relentless process.
Howard always has a smile. I interrupt a snack of Doritos – he smiles and returns them to a storage compartment under a seat on his walker. We chat about weather; he shows me an ear of corn from his rented property. It’s actually pretty impressive given our lack of moisture this year. His window is filled with recently greened grass, a bird feeder and the traffic of a moderately busy side-street. “How ya doin Howard?” “Not bad for 97 I guess – I’ll make it to 100 easy!” I suspect he will. Communion and prayer continue a life spent on the land and in a church – both the house of God.
Joe is new to the facility – and old customer of my past internet business. He’s unable to receive communion but desperately wants visitors. We chat, he struggles for a thought with the look that says “I know what the hell I want to say – where are the words?!?!?!?” We cover the usual – weather, how well they are taking care of him. His frustrations. Prayers and a firm grip bring some comfort as his life’s fringes are quickly tattering . . . .
Roberta M. is gently crying in the corner in her recliner. Her mouth has been fixed open for months, her response to people a bare minimum. I rub her arm, let her know I’m there, explain my purpose – the tears and crying slowly end – her focus on our shared devotion. Communion is a small speck of Host placed on her tongue. Hands joined in the Lord’s Prayer – she finds her way to the present, joins in the prayer and is peaceful . . . . at least for a spell. I am not sure where she goes afterwards – towards the end of her life’s fringe – caught between here and “there”. . . .
Theresa sits in her chair nearby. She feels angry. She refuses to speak, acknowledging me only with a sideways glance. Yet, communion is accepted and we share the words of the Lord’s Prayer as well. Yet, her burdens do not feel lighter. I pray for her peace . . . .
Finally – Liz. She is not of our parish, yet is a good friend. I sat with her husband the day she was admitted – both of our tears flowing freely. Well over 50 years together, now separated by health, constant confusion and physical weakness – she to move about and him to help her. His voice a mixture of guilt and resignation. Sadness, frustration, anger . . . . It is the future I fear most staring me in the face.
Liz is on the edge of panic – Ken has not appeared for the day. She remembers that he had been sick . . . . now she wonders if he’s coming, if he’s OK. She is on the very razor’s edge of panic . . . . She’s assured that he’s on his way (he had not arrived by the time I left) . . . . I wrap an arm around her – will some of my strength to fill her . . . . The edges of her life are filled with confusion, fear, frustration . . . . I pray for her peace as well.
This is part of the tapestry of all our lives. Some end swiftly and surely while others linger and finally fade . . . . It is our path, our life, our individual tapestry . . . .
And as the years pass . . . . our fringes become frayed . . . .
A gentle reminder to live each and every day. They are – indeed – a precious gift.