Thursday, September 15, 2016

Sixty-seven years

Sixty-seven years is a very long time.

One of the patients I recently visited on my volunteer chaplain rounds is a fairly new arrival at the senior facility. Well into her nineties, she has some physical limitations, but her mind is sharp, and she's bright as a new penny. Speaking with her is a real pleasure, and I look forward to our visits.

Ellen (not her real name, of course) valued her independence. She had lived in her home, a large, three-story Victorian, for sixty-seven years, the last twenty or so on her own, after the death of her husband. Ellen is grieving for her house now, and trying to make the adjustment to living in her new apartment.

"In my house," she complained during my last visit, "I knew where everything was. I could reach into a cabinet without looking, and find what I needed. Now I don't know where anything is. Where's the spatula? Where's the gravy boat?"

The sad thing, of course, is that Ellen knows she will probably not be needing her spatula or her gravy boat, since all her meals are provided by the facility in a lovely dining room. It's the familiarity that she's grieving for. She's also grieving for those picnics and Christmas-tree-trimming parties that she described to me -- those parties she will no longer be hosting. The banister that will no longer have the fir garland draped upon it. The stained-glass window at the top of the staircase. The garden with her favorite flower, the peonies.

Aging is a progressive diminishment, a peeling away of the familiar, until only the immediate and necessary remain. Some people adapt to this gracefully, even, at times, gratefully, happy to give up the burden of the house and all it entails. Many don't seem to. Sixty-seven years is a very long time to live in one house.

The house finally sold last week, Ellen told me. Her children took what they wanted, and the rest went to auction. "I never imagined it, my things in an auction," she whispered.

All I can do for Ellen is hold her hand, pray with her, and reassure her that she will eventually feel at home here, in this apartment where she can't find anything. But I'm not sure she believes me.

I'm not sure I believe it myself.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

September sizzle

I've been taking an informal survey among my friends. Of those of us who grew up around here (the tri-state area of PA-NJ-DE), none of us remembers this kind of heat in September. Yet here we are, approaching the middle of the month, and my weather app informs me that it's 95 degrees.

95 degrees.

Since I've always worked in academia, the arrival of September always brings me a jolt of energy: the kids are back to school, the leaves are turning brilliant colors, the nights are crisp and cool. All the cute sweaters we've bought for fall are hanging in the closet, begging to be worn.

Yeah, OK. No jolt of energy this year. The kids are back to school and sweltering in their classrooms. The leaves are falling because they're dead. The nights are muggy, just as they were in July. And the cute fall sweaters are jammed into the back of the closet, because we're still wearing summer tops.

And the regional forecast for the fall? Warm. Much above average. No suede boots for me. Flip-flops, maybe.

I hate to complain, but I will anyway. My husband read an article last year that suggested Philly would become the new Miami, once climate change really kicks in. Well, it may be happening, ladies and gents. And we'll need a new Miami, because the old one will be underwater.

So, all you climate-change deniers, listen up. Better still, come and sit with me on my porch. We can sip iced tea while you tell me this is just a normal weather variation.

Except, as my grandma would have said, "It ain't true."