When I was a young child, I learned from my mother that caring for others is the fruit of life.
The small town I lived in was a glass house, so small that when someone was sick, or born, dying, or dead, we all knew. Then everyone brought food. They sat and visited, comforting each in their own way, giving to the family and patient equally.
I saw my mother tend to her mother and father through the end of their long long lives. My father’s mother and father, her own sisters and brothers, neighbors, and friends. People called on her to stay with their loved ones who lingered in that half light between life and death. And when the time came, my mother helped them, kept their lips moist, fed them ice until there was no heat left to melt it, patted their pillows, touched their sweet tired cheeks, and held their hands until it was time to go on, to go HOME.
I am a child of many relatives who lived very long lives.
I saw people in nursing homes who were faint, thin, heavy, sad, lost, but not yet dead. I saw caregivers doing their best and some not near enough. I saw families sitting in miserable chairs in waiting rooms. I saw little ladies lined up along the hall.
In adolescence, I had a friend whose parents owned the town funeral home. We played there after church on Sunday, a day that most families choose to have the service for their dead. We played everywhere in that building. We took the elevator up to the casket room and hid inside them, pretending to be dead. We went down down down to the embalming room and touched the cold still bodies. We hid behind the curtains in the funeral parlor and watched as people mourned for their dead and sang their favorite songs. We saw fathers and uncles and grandfathers break down and fall to their knees while mothers and sisters and aunts and daughters knelt beside them.
So I grew up seeing and knowing death. I became as comfortable with this passage as sitting on a swing outside. Something about this made me want to know life and dig into what it means to pass through suffering and come back with a gift in my heart. Something in me wanted to know how to turn this dying I have seen and the care surrounding it into something as precious as gold. And to bring it back to share with others. It is a blessing to give back what I have been given.
I have cried and fought for my life in both darkness and light guided by teachers whose souls and hearts and brilliant human caring healing gifts taught me everything I needed to remember about who I am and what I came to this earth to do.
I trusted my life for just long enough with each of them to transform pain and doubt into a desire to give back.
This alchemy, this giving back, is now my work.