Mortality & Grace

While watching an older, heftier Dan Ackroyd reprise the classic Bass-O-Matic skit during the Saturday Night Live 40th Anniversary special recently, I was transported back to my parents’ living room, where I remember laughing to the point of tears at the original sketch. I was in my early twenties, and my then-husband and I were visiting my parents for the weekend. That was before any of my daughters were born, and before all the gifts and losses I couldn’t have imagined at the time that would influence the course of my life.

Like so many of the early SNL performers, I am at the sunset side of life. There was a bittersweet nostalgia to seeing clips from the shows decades ago, and to watching Jane Curtin, Steve Martin and others reprise old routines. John Belushi and Gilda Radner, so vibrantly “crazy” back then, have been dead for years. Life is no longer that open road disappearing into the mist of an eternal-seeming future. I know it’s not over ‘til it’s over, but I’m acutely aware of being mortal.   The mist is clearing, and I know I’m in the final third of my life, while continuing to pursue purposefulness and contribution.

Several weekends ago, Andrew and I visited his 96 year-old mother Lorraine at the Queen of Peace Residence in Queens, NY. Barely 80 pounds, her back nearly bent in half from scoliosis, and mostly wheelchair bound, she repeatedly said, without a complaining tone, “I’m so tired. My body is tired, my mind is tired, and I don’t understand why God won’t take me.” Though she has no appetite, she dutifully swallowed a quarter of her can of Ensure because “It would be a sin not to feed my body.”   We wheeled her to the in-house chapel, where we waited in the hallway outside for her to receive Communion.   She had chosen to spend time with us rather than attend the Saturday 11 a.m. Mass.

As we slowly pushed her wheelchair down the brightly lit hallway back to her room, she stopped to take the hands of other residents who were dozing in their wheelchairs outside their doors. They opened their eyes at her touch and smiled, before surrendering once more to a drug-induced sleep. Despite her weariness, Lorraine’s daily acts of kindness sustain her with a sense of purpose and worth.

Neither Andrew nor I can imagine being in a home like that, no matter how well-run and comfortable, in a state of such dependency on others. And yet there is much in our lives we wouldn’t have imagined 40 years ago. No matter how life unfolds as it comes to an end, no matter how many decades hence, I can only strive to meet my final days with as much patience, grace, and kindness as does Lorraine.