I sat with “A” yesterday who is still miraculously alive. She looks like death itself, but animated. She was in a truly wretched state – a skeleton sitting in her wheelchair, drifting in and out of a daze of suffering, occasionally murmuring “Oh god” as her eyes rolled back into her head. I have never seen such extreme suffering up close before. Anxiety and distress at witnessing her wretchedness welled up fast in me but there was nothing I could do to ease her pain. I did not want to add to her burden with well-meaning but ineffectual agitated flutterings and so I merely sat quietly close to her, offering only my caring presence. I calmed myself, without fleeing from that reality, by remaining grounded in the room, in myself, and in the moment. I watched my thoughts and feelings struggle to deal with the situation while I maintained a strong internal anchor of loving stability. I felt an intimacy of shared humanity with her, although in that moment we were having very different human experiences and I’m not sure if she had much awareness of me at all.
And then she was wheeled off to be bathed and I moved on to be with an adorable and utterly charming 99-year-old woman, listening to her twinkling humor and stories of a long, mostly happy life. She sat nimbly crocheting, her own paintings on the walls around her, telling me about her childhood and how her father once was turned away from a library because he had already read every book in the place.
And then on to “G” who spoke of having a beautiful awakening of gratitude and caring connection with others after being shut down and angry for her many months at the Guest House (and perhaps for many years previously as well). Having suffered a great deal of hideous abuse in her life, she now says “I feel cared for here, I am home.” She sang silly songs that she made up and I danced to them.
And on and on it goes, the variety of human experiences at the end of life that I am privileged to be with every Saturday. I too feel at home here.