Watching someone get old and prepare to die is hard. It’s really hard. And sad. And quiet. The inability to fight the inevitable end sometimes makes me cry in the shower. Not for myself, but for my friend Esther. Not for me, but for Esther’s son.
For four years, twice a month, I have gone grocery shopping with Esther. And in that space between comfortable but not too familiar, I have watched her sight grow more dim, her hearing fade, her steps falter and slow. At just shy of ninety years old, she is grateful for outings to ShopRite and church. She tells the same stories about the golf course that’s now apartment buildings, the house with a porch where she spent her happiest years, the pet squirrel she had as a child. I listen, ask questions, respond.
Esther and I have had spirited conversations about who cut her food stamps from $120 to $38 per month over the four years I’ve shopped with her. To her, it’s Obama. In her head, the President is also responsible for her husband’s pension plan dropping her additional health coverage – long before current changes were passed. When she complains about people dependent on welfare, I gently point out that her son is on disability, and that she receives benefits. When she says the Affordable Care Act (That Obamacare!) will be a failure because the government runs it, I point out that she relies on Medicare, which is run by the government. In other words, she’s no quiet, reticent old lady. And she likes that I don’t just nod and smile. Although, she now says, “Well, I won’t blame it on Obama because I know how you get.” Spunk, I tell you.
Even so, she’s more forgetful than she was four years ago. She’ll ask three times about getting the cat food, even after we’ve counted out the 20 cans of shreds, not flakes. She searches desperately, unsuccessfully, for phrases like facial tissues and tomatoes on the vine, while in the next breath she corrects my pronunciation of mozzarella and ricotta. We laugh at ourselves and each other. She embarrasses me with her gratitude. And yes, I lose my patience with her, but never to her face. Never so she sees.
Esther says that I am an angel sent from heaven, and I tell her I’m making up for past sins. She laughs and pats my arm and says, “Oh no, you’re an angel.”
The truth is, I’m far from my father. Too far to help him with outings and day-to-day tasks. Too far to notice the alterations that growing older is heaping upon him. Helping Esther is my chosen method of trying to Pay it Forward. My way of thanking others for kindnesses given to my father.
Watching Esther get old and prepare to die is hard. It’s slow and sad. It makes me cry in the shower because I can’t make old age give back a clear head and a healthy body. Not to Esther. Not to my father. Not to anyone.Hooking up with the moonshine grid at yeah write. Featured on Schmutzie’s Five Star Friday brought to you by Gabriel García Márquez.