You have not loved someone until you make love all night to “Nights in White Satin,” the Moody Blues’ song; until you read pages of truth to each other from the great classic writings; until you spontaneously drink long and deep from each other’s eyes; until you awaken in the night, lips wet from a dream kiss. This passage is an ode to a friend. I wrote this on July 14, 2012.
I saw the leaves beginning to change color as I gazed upon the trees lining the road stretching ahead, when at my age, 60, I began caring for Emma. I faced then my barren chances to encounter amid the fallen leaves of my life this kind of love again.
Shuffling through the dry leaves littering the ground, I discover that when I lift out and let the wind carry away the passion, the pain and the pleasure, what I am left with is unconditional love, that pure love; it appears before me and all around me as existing in white light.
So it happened in autumn 2001 that the love aspect of passion and pleasure (and pain) that I might see in my future turned to another aspect of love, that of caregiving.
An aspect of caregiving for someone with dementia is dealing with healthcare agencies and aides who act demented. They’d show up just to collect a paycheck. Sometimes they didn’t show up. They took control, disregarding my wishes.
It wasn’t all about them. And it wasn’t all about me. It was about Emma; it was about preserving her dignity and respect, about her comfort, about compassion for her condition. And Emma let them know despite her failing state.
What I did then seems like a dream. I reflected on my caregiving role with my hospice chaplain when she visited in July 2012, three months after Emma’s passing. She reminded me of the role I played throughout my lost decade: “You are the Lion at the Gate,” she said. Right. As caregiver, you are too involved giving care to think of that, or of yourself. The Lion at the Gate: I was constantly on guard; I learned to take no prisoners. Sometimes I had to just let go. I learned that, too. I had faith and trust.
Throughout my lost decade and beyond, I have spent no nights in white satin; but I’ll always be grateful to those who smoothed my way and Emma’s in her last months: Daphne, our 30-hour-a-week Attendant Care Services aide (“Oh, was I supposed to give her the Haldol?” when Emma was agitated); and my extraordinary hospice team. Tess, our nurse, and Geri, our social worker, would sit and listen patiently for an hour to my fulminations and then suddenly it all got funny and we’d laugh and laugh. At the end, my spiritual teacher friend got me through. I don’t know what I would have done without him. But, in between — as our chaplain told me, I had to learn to be the Lion at the Gate.
Now, today, April 14, 2015, spring has come. I have never been much interested in things, but rather in ideas and the beauty of nature surrounding me. On the road stretching ahead, therefore, my aspiration is simple: it is to stay on the path, this spiritual journey, as best I can in my humble way.