Filed under: Bible, Christianity, God, Grace, Jesus, Religion, Spirituality, thoughts, writing
My great-grandmother was very lucid until the last couple of years of her life. Well past 100 years old she lived in the extra back bedroom behind the dining room in my great-aunt’s house. My Aunt and Uncle were multiple pack a day smokers. So, the strongest memory of that house was the decadent smell of cigarette smoke. My parents always complained about that smell, but I secretly loved it. It seemed to have seeped into every inch of furniture. By the time we had left it was deeply embedded in our own cloths. We would always visit after dinner so this smell mingled with some hearty meat and potato meal only recently consumed.
Grandma was very sharp until one day in her last year. It was around the same time that we noticed a dark bruise near her right temple. It was a large and nasty bruise that extended from that temple down to her cheeks. It was not only black and blue, but I remember dark purple coloring its edges. Upon inquiring we were told that Mary had fallen earlier in the week. It wasn’t a particularly bad fall, but she had bumped her head on the side of a chair.
Everyone was convinced that Mary was fine, but within a few days it was clear that the family matriarch with the astounding memories was in a muddle. She seemed confused, preoccupied and agitated. One day during a rain storm she wandered into the dining room in a bathrobe proclaiming, “Water, water everywhere, where does it come from, where does it go to!”
It became increasingly apparent over the next few weeks that she was getting to be too much for my aunt to handle. So, the family began looking for an appropriate facility to put my great-grandmother so that she could receive around the clock care.
A small nursing home facility was located and it was decided that this was the place for Mary. I was not there when they moved her into the room with another woman, but it was not long before I made my first visit. I did not know what to expect, but from the extreme mixtures of smells filling the air I figured it must be a difficult place. Urine, feces, antiseptic cleaners and the wafting scent of institutional food mingled in the air soured my stomach. None of these smell diminished when we reached Mary and Cindy’s room.
Grandma slept when we entered the room and Cindy immediately introduced herself. She said that the past couple of days had been rough for Mary. Cindy seemed like a nice enough roommate. She showed us the room and bathroom and kept pointing to a faded picture of her husband. “He’s coming to get me you know?” she said with a deep affection. From her tone and the age of the picture we knew that this was not true.
When awake Mary was incoherent. She claimed the nurses were beating her and she missed her husband whom had died 10 years earlier and dearly wanted to be with him. She even tried to pinch me. The nurses had told us that Mary had been having trouble getting out of bed and looking closer we saw the straps that had been set in place to keep Mary from once again falling to the linoleum floor.
Across the hall someone kept moaning over and over again, “Somebody please help me!”
Yet, for such a seemingly terrible situation I have a very fond memory. How could a seemingly frightening situation turn fond? What I remember from that place most clearly was my father comforting his grandmother. He said soothing things to her. Told her how much he loved her. He took her hand and stroked it gently, then taking a brush and he ran it through her wildly tangled gray hair. This was a side of my father that I had never before seen. Mary, the woman whom had taken care of him as a child was now being comforted and cared for by an adult child.
In my profession I encounter that medical establishment smell quite often, especially recently, and without fail the smell that fills the hospital transports me back to that room and the comfort my father gave Mary days before her death. Even in those spooky moments we wanted to enjoy the presence of a wonderful woman. My father did not want to squander the moment.
In the gospels another Mary has also filled the room with the nard of balm that has been lovingly spread over Jesus’ filthy feet. She has taken her hair and used it as a gentle brush working its lotion into his tired feet. It must have been a wonderful sight of devotion and love wedded with a suspicion that Jesus was only going to be with her for a little longer.
The simple point of reflection is that there are plenty of things to do in this life, plenty of work for us to get done, plenty of experiences to have, even plenty of good works to do. Yet, all we have is this present moment in which to live. We can spend our entire lives preparing to do something good when we have what we need in this moment. Our past can so overwhelm and burden our steps that we grieve and complain, yet this moment is all that we really have.
We will not always have this moment to create the beautiful smell of salvation. Let’s not squander it by overcompensating with worry and guilt. We should begin our progress toward peace in this moment and in every moment that we have breath.
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