Death

I quit my job in January. One that I had done for a long time. Unless there was something new to learn, I could work with my eyes closed throughout my daily existence. When I started, I knew nothing about the industry I was helping in; everything was an acronym. When I was in the presence of seasoned business world employees, I felt so stupid, not knowing what anyone was talking about.

I had to go to the local jail and have my fingerprints taken to do my job. I remember feeling so frightened by the presence of so many in authority and this overwhelming feeling of sadness mixed with aggression. I had to wait, and out of mounting anxiety, I stood with my back against the wall to ensure that no one would be unexpectedly behind me. 

I was alone and didn’t feel safe, even though I was in the presence of law enforcement. I watched as a man went through the process I was there for, but he was not going to work, but rather a cell. Some have said their jobs are a prison, and his was about to be at that moment. The female officer took his fingers, rolled them on an ink pad, and placed them on a white card. 

They said nothing to one another. 

When he was moved on, I was summoned forward with her motioning to me with her hand. There were no pleasantries spoken. 

I went in her direction, not fully knowing what I needed to say. I was adjusting to encountering uncertain circumstances as I had never been in before. 

Just as I was going to speak, a man was escorted past me in handcuffs by two police officers, one on each side. He had his head down, like he was ashamed of himself, not wanting any of us to make eye contact with him. His sins had caught up with him, and he couldn’t bear to look humanity in the eye. 

How does a person get there? He was once a small boy, innocently set into the world, and now going into a cage that clearly wouldn’t offer him any forgiveness. He had to be held accountable for whatever transgressions he had done, but what had created this life along the way? This dejected individual had participated in activity that had landed him here, but why? What had been the mixture of mistakes blended, putting him on a path of self-destruction? 

As a mom of two, newly divorced, and wanting to raise them right, I wanted to know. I turned away quickly and told her what I needed. 

She mechanically went to work, doing the same as the man before me. I glanced nervously around, keeping my purse secured across the front of my body. I was in a place where many thieves were gathered, so I felt this overwhelming need to protect myself. 

As she finished my last finger, I said,

“This is the only time I am ever doing this.”

This brought on a smile from her and a slight laugh.

“That’s a good idea,” she said.

I was given a copy of my identity, the one God gave me at birth, and I left the jail that day a free woman. 

The intimidation there was nothing compared to what was up next. 

I recall being at a meeting and overhearing someone commenting on another assistant. She had asked a basic question, which was being made fun of. It was along the lines of, “Can you believe she asked that? She should know that.” This was when I was brand new. 

I wasn’t up for exposing myself to ridicule. From that point on, I listened intently, wanting so much to learn the language. Never fully revealing that I was so lost, especially not in public. 

I found myself flying under the radar like I always had to smile and nod as if I knew what was going on. I didn’t realize I was advancing as I sat day after day, trying to overcome what felt like a learning disability. While the rest of the class was moving on, I felt the dead weight, looking at paperwork with many questions and writing it down. Multicolored sticky notes graced everything in those early days, or I would spend a lot of energy trying to remember who was who and what was what to exasperation. 

They say it takes six months to comprehend a new job. Don’t give up until you hit that mark, is the advice, so I stayed for fourteen years. Sometimes not fully comprehending what was happening but desperately wanted to do a good job. 

I could have quit many times during that span, but I held on, not fully aware of all the understanding I was getting. God had put me there for a reason, and I knew that I would miss out on something of importance if I quit. 

One day, as I looked at the piles and stacks of everything that needed a proper place, I had a vision of an abandoned field. It had rocks and weeds all over it, left unattended for a while. 

“Don’t give up. Help clean up the field so the ground is good again. I will help you do it; you can do this no matter how difficult it might get.”

Then I was shown a field filled with healthy crops, growing strong, every inch producing as it should.

“Help make that happen,” I heard in my mind. 

I never can say no to God. While I wanted to run and find a different place entirely, I knew that this was what I was being asked to do. I instantly remembered telling God a while before this that I didn’t want my will anymore and was giving myself away to heaven’s lead. I was fully aware of having my own “will,” and many a preacher had expounded on this; God and I would forever be at odds, me wanting my way against His. 

I chose to give mine up, and whenever faced with a moment of possible tug of war between my Creator and me, the still small voice would say,

“Did you give me your will?”

That is still all it takes for me to drop the fight. 

The place I found the most helpful to navigate the unknown waters of this job was one that many would have overlooked. But, God led me in the way I was to go, true to the promise. 

One of the biggest challenges was organizing all the paper that used to accumulate. There were boxes and boxes filled with filing to do, so I began sorting through it all by name, putting everything in alphabetical order, still not fully seeing the bigger picture. This was before the idea of going green existed. To help my mind keep things straight, I implemented a system of colors, with each folder representing a specific type of client and what they had with the company. 

I was so wrapped up in trying to grasp every concept that any small mistake I made was like an absolute failure. When I thought I had mastered something, it would be called to my attention that I hadn’t done something right. That wasn’t easy to swallow and put my self-confidence back at zero. 

In reality, all those missteps taught me how to become what I was striving to be. 

As I went through the organization process, I began creating “dead files” boxes. These were shoved into a far dark corner, known as cold storage. They had no purpose anymore, some from customers who had moved on to other advisors and others who had moved on from earth.

After getting the active cases put away, which took months, I looked around to see what I could fix next. I opened the lid on the first of many. When I had been trying to focus on the “living,” I had randomly placed all of the old ones haphazardly aside to deal with later.

Now was later. 

A critical component of my position was to be sure that past information was locked up and shredded, adhering to the law. If a client no longer was with the company, their files had to be kept for a certain amount of time and then destroyed. I went about creating a database, cataloging everyone, especially those who needed to be disposed of, so we would comply. 

Amazingly, this is what held the key to my understanding. 

Day after day, I spent an entire summer alone, sifting through unneeded material, either shredding on the spot or marking it to be done later. Because these were no longer viable contacts, I became relaxed, and specific ideas and thoughts would become illuminated that had been so dark. It was as if a silent instructor stood by me, telling me what to do, taking away the struggle. I finally started to learn the language. 

I remember being shocked that I could carry on an intelligent conversation, putting words and sentences together because I finally understood what I was doing. Even though it took a lot of trial and error, I was thrilled that I knew more than before. 

Somewhere amongst the dead files, I had found life. 

I did what I knew I was to do, behind the scenes digging up a plot of land, making room for a productive venture that could function at its highest, bringing great benefits to the clients under the company’s care and even myself in some ways I had not imagined at the onset. 

To leave that behind wasn’t easy. But, again, I started to hear that voice telling me there was something else I was needed for. 

I ignored it for a while, not wanting to go back to a time of uncertainty. I had overcome the hurdles, and now I tried to coast along, believing this was it. I had made it. Why mess with something that I had worked so diligently to construct? 

Because I don’t belong to me. 

Driving alone with nothing to distract me, I heard,

“I have something else I need you to do. You will thank me later.”

It wasn’t easy to see the road after that, but I knew I wasn’t staying where I had been. 

It isn’t until you no longer do what you have been that you are mindful of how much of yourself you had committed to that. You have flashes of memories where you see you did what you were told to do even when you didn’t want to. You put everything of yourself in it, and now what? Do that again? 

Within days of resigning, I heard one morning, when I was barely awake, 

“You need to be a hospice volunteer.”

I had wanted to go into this for a while, but I had put it off. Three years ago, I looked at getting a higher education to my B.A. in Psychology to do this and earn money doing it, but as I tried to, doors seemed slammed shut. I was given wrong information, left messages that never got called back, and was told the only way I could do the work I wanted and get paid was to spend at least four years in school far and away from the actual work. 

While out on a walk in deep frustration, again the voice came,

“Work with people for now. Not paper.”

I knew this was an answer to stop pursuing school and sign up for the work, even if it meant doing it for free. 

Then Covid hit, closing the door for a bit.

Now unemployed, I was being told to pick it up again. I looked up hospice in my area, which there are a million, but picked the one that appeared first. I have learned that doors fly open when God leads you, despite trying to reason your way out of it. 

Filling out 21 pages of the orientation requirements made me wonder what they do to a person who they hire for real. I had to submit a resume, give them three references from people who would vouch for my character, do a background check, and even give blood. 

The technician was new, and it sprayed everywhere. I felt so emotionally beat down that it was a sign I was still alive. Usually, that might have bothered me, but I didn’t even care. 

“I am so sorry!” She said, embarrassed, eyes wide behind her mask. 

“That’s ok,” I said, remembering what it was like to start a new job that I had just left. I had moved quickly enough so it missed my clothes. For a week, the massive bruise on my arm reminded me that I had signed up for this. 

I was given some patients and began the journey. It’s a lot of listening, praying, and sometimes just quietly sitting still and observing. 

I often listen with my eyes. That sounds strange, but it’s true. 

A few weeks ago, as I said hello to one under my care, she looked at me, and I knew. 

Nothing was different about her health situation, and it appeared the same, but I was made aware with the voice speaking to me again of what was to come. She wasn’t going to be here much longer. So I did my best despite knowing that it wasn’t going to be long. 

Last week, when I went to see her before I got to her room, I heard in my mind, 

“If you see her lying in bed, this is your sign that you know she’s leaving soon.”

Usually sitting up in the sun in the day room, I found her lying on her bed, sound asleep. I didn’t wake her, but I knew this would be the last time I saw her, so I quietly said goodbye.

I thought of her this past week, the day before I was to visit again. I even commented to my daughter that I felt I wouldn’t see her. Just before I left the house to go to her assisted living, I felt like I was to check my email. There I found a note telling me she had passed that morning. I was thanked for making her time left more pleasant.

I was glad I said certain things to her and made her laugh. It was the only indication that she was okay with me being there. When you know things ahead of time like this, a mixture of emotions follows. 

“I will check in on you next week,” I would say as I would leave. “I wanted to see how you were doing.”

She would then smile and say,

“I am so glad you did.” 

Her door was shut to her room when I got there the other day, and the spot in the day room where she sat was vacant. It appears as if it’s over to those who don’t see. On the other side, however, she is beaming in bright light, fully back to the fullness of her youth. I know that she walks now alongside those who have gone before her, and she is happy to be next to her husband, who she loved on earth so very much. 

This isn’t a job where I shuffle papers, and it’s not going to pay a single bill. 

It is a moment to become more aware of my days and those ahead of me. 

Again I find myself trying to understand something new about life while looking for answers to what is deemed as death. 

 It’s what we trust in but don’t yet see that keeps us going. Do you suppose a few ruts in the road or rocks in the path are going to stop us? When the time comes, we’ll be plenty ready to exchange exile for homecoming. (2 Corinthians. 5:7)

He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less. (John 3:30)

(One of the places, I listen with my eyes)

Watching

“My watch isn’t working,” he said, looking down at his wrist.

“Again?” I asked, hoping silently it was just off by a few minutes.

As my dad has aged, seasons and time have come to mean nothing. Yet, he wants the security of a band encircling his arm, reminding him of the hour and day.

Right as fall changed to winter, and snow was coming down outside his apartment, I said,

“It’s so horrible outside right now.” I had driven on slippery roads to get to him to be sure he was okay.

“Spring is coming,” he said.

I pointed to the large clock displaying the time, day, and month.

“What does that say?”

He squinted.

“It says December 28th.”

“When did winter start? What day?”

“I don’t know. Why?”

“You just said spring is coming. Winter just started on December 21. How many days ago was that?”

He often goes silent while calculating numbers in his mind.

“7 days ago? It’s only been winter for a week?”

“Yes.”

“Spring is still coming, though.”

“When isn’t it?”

The other discussion he has with me a lot lately is how long my mom has been in heaven and the length of time he has been at an assisted living.

“How long have I been here?”

“Three years this summer.”

“What? I thought it was less than a year. Where have I been all this time? I don’t remember almost three years going by.”

“It has.”

“Mom has been gone that long?”

“Yes.”

“I’m losing it, Chris. I really am.”

“It’s okay. What difference does any of this make? As long as you are safe and have help. Nothing else matters.”

To cut down on the confusion, I try to ensure that the time is correct if he has his watch on. So when he said it wasn’t working, I looked at it.

As with everything he has ever owned, this particular timepiece was probably in his possession since the pioneer days. He comes from an era that gets rid of nothing.

Less than a year ago, I had replaced the battery because he wouldn’t let me buy him a new watch. He had two, and both had stopped functioning. He sent me on a mission to have fresh batteries installed.

I walked into a department store, thinking the person at the jewelry counter could help. A guy was trying on sunglasses from a case. As he put each one on and looked in a mirror and handed them back, she had a disinfectant wipe at the ready.

“Can I help you?” She said while Mr. Ray-Ban was preoccupied with himself in the mirror.

I took out both watches and told her what I needed.

“You will have to go to a battery store. Since Covid, our store policy doesn’t allow us to touch personal items anymore.”

“How do these look on me?” He asked like I had shown up as his personal fashion assistant.

“Great,” I answered, wondering how one virus had taken away so many things, except for vanity.

I went to the place she suggested. One was quickly fixed.

“You will have to go to a jewelry store specifically for this other one. I don’t have the proper tool to open it.”

I paid for the one, got back in my car, and went to destination three to see if they could help. You will go to great lengths for the ones under your care.

The second one was put back in working order, and I took them to him.

When I showed him they were fixed, it was like his lifeline to the world had been restored. He promptly fastened it back where he felt it belonged.

The familiarity of it, I realized, was an anchor for him, somehow helping him be grounded in a subtle way.

One of the two stopped working immediately.

“Just forget it, Chris. I can use this one.”

Well, that one less than a year later was now starting to fade again, and I didn’t want to go through the process of a battery change.

“This has quit working.”

“Should I get you a new one?”

The question was going to yield an answer I could not guess. I was assuming he was going to cling to the old.

“Yes. I think I want something else.”

Talk about throwing all caution to the wind!

That small change for a person nearing ninety is quite the step.

Happy that I didn’t have to go through the hassle of the battery, I went to the store. I realized I was not aware of the assortment of watches that there are to choose from. I needed something simple.

I use my phone to see the time. I was delving into an arena I hadn’t been paying attention to since the 80s.

No, I don’t want to monitor his heart rate; he worries enough, and knowing him, he would watch the numbers go up and worry more. No, he doesn’t need a stopwatch function because he isn’t running track. No, it can’t have five million buttons on both sides. Yes, it required a large face with two different hands.

I laughed when I saw the display for Casio. I instantly saw John Candy in Trains, Planes, and Automobiles trying to sell it so he could get a hotel room.

I found a rare one that only kept time and had a small window showing the date.

When I arrived, there was an activity about ready to happen with a lady playing the piano. I showed him the watch.

“I will set it for you while she plays,” I said.

He glanced down at his wrist, remembering something was absent.

“I don’t have the time.”

“I think you have quite a bit of it unless you are now working a full-time job that I’m not aware of.”

He laughed.

“No. I have plenty of time, just not something to tell me how slow the day is going.”

While sitting next to him at the social event, I was trying to read the fine print. Not just fine, but super small, like I needed a magnifying glass. I held up the tiny paper away from me to try and focus.

I heard him laugh slightly. I squinted. I moved the instructions closer.

He leaned over and said,

“You need a new pair of glasses now that you have bought me a new watch.” I didn’t have my glasses on.

“And a refresher course in a foreign language because I just realized I was trying to read in Spanish.”

After I got it set, I slipped it on his arm.

He looked at it and said,

“It’s not working, Chris.”

“What? This is brand new.”

Sure enough, it had stopped for no reason.

“I think you have lived past your time,” I said smiling, and he laughed again. “This is a sign your time is up.” He has been in multiple situations where he has dodged death, so I knew he would not take me seriously.

When I tried to snap the band back in place, it wouldn’t. I thought I had succeeded, and it fell to the floor. But, it was running right. So that was going in my favor.

“When things are fighting me this much, I’m thinking you are not supposed to be concerned with time at all.”

After a lot more struggling, I had it, and so did he.

Sighing, he said,

“Nothing seems easy anymore. I need to move on from all of this.”

“You will someday,” I said.

We all will. The one thing we all can count on besides a Timex that keeps on ticking is our departure. But no one wants to really talk about it.

A few months ago, I took an online course to be certified as a death doula. Just like there are people devoted to bringing babies into the world, there are those who want to help people go on to eternity.

When my dentist asked me what I was up to, and I told him, he said,

“You are a death angel? Is that what you are? People see you coming and run?”

He also asked if I needed less novocaine since I was so in tune with the afterlife.

In one of the chapters of the material, there were resources listed that a person could use to discuss the topic with more ease. One way this is happening is death coffee shops popping up. I have had a cup of coffee or two taste like death, but these places are expressly set up to have people get together and converse solely about their demise. Instead of avoiding it, they are planning what they want and making sure to write out what they don’t.

We aren’t accustomed to not knowing what is next. You can pull up a guide on your remote, and it will list every single show that will be on for days. If you are going somewhere, you can map it out and see precisely where you will be and when. Almost every electronic device has a timer, so you can set it and know it will turn on and off at certain hours.

But when it comes to the ultimate end, we don’t fully know, which causes many not to want to think about it. In Ecclesiastes 12:7 it says,

Life, lovely while it lasts, is soon over. Life as we know it, precious and beautiful, ends. The body is put back in the same ground it came from. The spirit returns to God, who first breathed it. (Message)

You aren’t guaranteed a tomorrow, and while that sounds morbid, it should prompt you to live today with a more significant awareness of the people God has put into your life for a reason, that the minor irritations that come your way, like getting delayed, mean nothing in the vast scheme of things, and that you are a vital piece of the puzzle, needed to fulfill your life purpose.

Colossians 3:2 will help keep your focus on what is important:

Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. (NLT)

A sense of peace will come when you decide to do that. This will help you go through your days, knowing that you are not doing this alone and God is watching.

Irritant

I had finally escaped the pain that was zipping through my face by falling asleep. Once it started, it would sometimes last for three days before subsiding. When you do everything you can to stop it, and nothing seems to be working, you start to wonder if it will go back to normal.

Acupuncture and chiropractor visits had offset it, but stress was the culprit that had promoted it. Mentally, it was wearing, taunting me to forget everything I knew was true about healing. Even when it subsided, there was this low level fear that it would return without warning.

I had used a TENS unit to send electrical pulses to the area as a way to activate the central nervous system, which can create a temporary respite.

The one thing I learned not to do was increase the intensity quickly. With the pads adhered to the side of my face and down my neck, I had to turn the dial slowly. At the lowest level, nothing could be felt, so I had to move it up until it was tolerable.

There would be this slight pinching feeling that would begin and spread out into a wave. I always felt a tingling on the inside of my cheek.

I found out the hard way that if the dial were accidentally bumped up to the highest level, you would have an impromptu shock therapy session.

Like in a movie where someone is being tortured to cough up the truth, this self-inflicted move will have you become vocal so that every person around you knows that you would be indebted for life if there were a swear jar. The current that shoots into your body could light up a small town.

I felt like someone was watching me as I blinked my eyes. It seemed like my jaw, where it had started, felt better. Maybe I was on the mend, and it followed a pattern, it seemed. Once at this point, from past flare ups, I knew I was probably past the worst of it.

Just as I was about to say this, she appeared above me with something in her hand. Like she had been waiting for me to wake up. I wasn’t quite fully conscious.

“What are you…”

I felt a coldness on my temple as she went to work rolling on some liquid in a glass bottle. I don’t know how this had happened, but somewhere along the way, my daughter had become a holistic medicine person, researching, buying, and applying it to me. Just to see how it went.

I had flashbacks from my childhood when remedies would be forced upon me with no explanation. Ointments, sprays, or yucky tasting liquids, all slathered, spritzed, or presented on a spoon, were given without warning. It was futile to refuse.

“I read that peppermint oil is supposed to help this type of pain.”

She put it across my forehead and on my other temple. I had to close my eyes as the scent was strong like one gigantic after-dinner mint.

“It feels better since I slept,” as she continued to put more on.

I was starting to detect the coolness turning to warmth on my face. Similar to going near a source of heat when you are chilled. At first, it was soothing until the burning started.

I stopped her mid-application.

“Something isn’t okay,” I said.

“What?”

It was going up from mild to scorching rapidly. When I felt drips of it reach both corners of my eyes, I knew that I was going to have to wash some of it off.

“How much of this are you supposed to put on?”

“I don’t know. Maybe I should do it differently next time. This is supposed to be good for this type of thing.”

At that moment, I recalled that sometimes less is better. I had to remove the pads and run blindly for a sink without opening my eyes. That was impressive. If I ever had to leave my home in an emergency, I had just proven to myself I could do it without having sight.

The nerve pain in my face was long forgotten as I tried to remember what I had learned in chemistry when hydrochloric acid had spilled and splashed at me. This felt worse.

When you are a part of an experiment not conducted by any scientific means, you run the risk of coming to your own rescue.

Hanging over the sink, I said in between handfuls of water that I was drowning myself in,

“What happened to me waking up in a blissful state? You pounced on me the minute that you saw I was awake!”

She came into the bathroom to check on me. As usual, when she is standing there looking at me, it makes me laugh. I don’t want to, but it’s something about how she looks so bewildered as to why her carefully laid plans have gone astray.

I grabbed a towel to dry off, but I had to plunge back in and continue to try and remove it.

“What is this supposed to do? How was this supposed to help? What did you find online that said this was a good idea?”

I said all this as I choked on all the water in the world I could get.

“It is supposed to relax the nerve.”

“I am not relaxed right now. None of my nerves are at peace right now.”

The next time I used it, I put it on my wrists, as far from my face as I could get it. You can do that, and it will still bring results without incinerating your skin.

Worse than an adverse reaction to a substance is to be forced to deal with a person that has become a nuisance, gotten under your skin, and possibly on your last nerve.

There was an Aunt Sophie vs. my Dad period during my childhood, which was tumultuous. When I was seven, I recall seeing him struggle with dealing with his mom. My grandma had gone through a series of strokes and health issues, so she was considered a vulnerable adult, but back then, it was not viewed as it is today. She lived with her sister, Sophie, who was not the best at taking care of herself, let alone another human being.

People were left to their own devices and the help we have today to deal with these types of situations was not there back then.

He would always get this impatient tone when he had to field a call from Sophie. I noticed that he held the handset far from his ear when she spoke like he was putting as much distance between her lips and his ear as possible.

I could visualize her in my mind. She always had on the brightest shade of red, usually smeared across her front teeth.

His only response strategically placed was,

“Uh, huh.”

She could talk his face off, and he was not one for being on the phone when he wanted to be outside doing a task he considered enjoyable, like building something out of wood. He didn’t want to listen to a woman talk at him. It was never a pleasant exchange.

There always was some upset that he was expected to deal with. I was too young to understand what the pressure exerted on him was, but I saw his blood pressure go up the minute he had to speak to her.

If I came in the kitchen when this was going on, my mom would whisper,

“It’s Sophie. You might want to leave.” She didn’t want me to be subjected to more of his language than I had to be. She knew that he would go off at some point when he had reached his limit.

Her calls were the worst timing when he would finally be free from work, and it was a Saturday where he had no schedule.

“Sophie, stop crying. I can’t understand what you are saying.”

This was usually the opening statement, and it was stated mechanically.

I often stood there looking up at him to see if he would notice me. He rarely did because something had to happen to bring him back once he went into this far-off state. His eyes would glaze over like he wanted to leave his body.

I could hear her shrill voice on the other end. When he took me with him to see her, I asked him later why she chewed gum every time I saw her.

“That’s not gum, Chris. That’s her nerves. She can’t sit still. She is crazy.” And this was the person in charge of his mother.

On one particular day, he was at his wit’s end. My mom had yelled out the front door that he was wanted on the phone.

“Who is it?”

“Sophie. I think something is wrong.”

It was always the same thing to guilt him into coming in.

I could tell the minute he stepped in the house that this wouldn’t go well. I heard a deep sigh as he said,

“Hello?”

For a few brief seconds, it was silent. Then after months, and maybe years of this, the explosion happened. He had been stuffing down his frustration for so long he could not hold it back anymore.

The whole thing ended with him yelling super loud, and he smashed the phone back into the cradle. He stormed back outside. My mom looked at me. I looked at her. It was like someone had pushed his final button.

It was a warm spring day, so all the windows were open. From the garage, we heard him yelp. Like one of those Fred Flintstone shriek’s that seem fake, but this was not.

“What was that?” she asked me. I shrugged. We both looked out the kitchen window to see him coming back, holding onto his hand.

“John, what did you do to yourself?”

Always the nurse ready to get out her bandages and splints.

He held out his thumb, which was quickly becoming double its size.

“I was going to hammer in a nail, and Sophie made me so mad that I hit myself instead. I cannot stand that woman!”

An ice bag was applied to his injury, and the coldness in his heart toward his aunt didn’t improve, especially once he found out that she was stealing funds from my grandma.

He had to learn to tolerate her even though he looked like he was being scraped with sandpaper every time they had to be in the same room together.

He tried his absolute best to follow Proverbs 15:1:

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (NIV)

Sometimes that is all you can do. Did he roll his eyes when he would have to see her? Yes, every time. He made sure to look at me and do that. But, he kept his mouth shut and his temper under control. He found out it wasn’t worth getting all bent out of shape or almost breaking his thumb.

He had to learn to limit his time with her to keep his peace. Just like I had to learn how to use the oil sparingly to help my physical pain, we have to do that with people sometimes. And believe it or not, you might be the object of someone’s angst. We all can be.

I have a list of the eight most common emotions hanging on my refrigerator. Each one gives examples of what is felt, such as frustration or resentment associated with anger. But, with each one, another column tells what gift is earned as you work with each one.

So that friend or neighbor who drives you up the wall is building your inner strength, helping you put up boundaries, and allowing you to develop some assertiveness skills.

God can do that, even with the worst irritant.

More Than A Number

“Are you near your computer?” He asked me.

“Yes.”

“I need you to type in..”

He went into turbo speed talk, trying to give me a string of numbers and letters to put into the browser to get to a website.

“Wait,” I said.

He was on number or letter fifty, and I was still putting in one from the beginning. I was on the phone with a helpline representative.

“Are you at the portal?”

Like to leave earth? No. But sometimes I wish.

“No. I’m still trying to get what you said in.”

I went back and read off what I had been able to keep up with.

“Oh, ok. I didn’t know you were that far behind.”

He started off where I was, and I hit enter. I knew when I saw code error 404, it wasn’t going to work.

“It says that the link is broken. I can’t go to that site.”

“Well, I’m there, so I know it’s working.”

I went back to where we started.

“I will go through each letter and number one by one.”

“Okay,” I said.

“A as in apple. Do you have that now?”

For real, guy? You go from speed talk to now acting like I’m four years old.

“Yes. Got it.”

“Are you ready for the next one?” He said in soft tones so as not to mentally break me.

“Yes,” I said.

He went at a snail’s pace to ensure I didn’t miss anything.

“Did we make it?”

Like we were hiking a treacherous mountain.

When I am made to feel ‘old’, I recall what I have read in multiple publications: age is a mindset. Most of these are written by people from a long time ago in history and are dead, but their words make sense. When more than one person says something, and they are not associated, that is when you know you are on to the truth.

A year ago, while visiting my dad at his assisted living when restrictions were still in place, he proved this theory. He was in lockdown, so his meals were being delivered to his apartment, and there was no contact with the outside world, really.

I had arrived before noon to find him still in bed, fast asleep. His days and nights were mixed up, and I often found meals stacked up in his refrigerator untouched, which led me to believe he was sleeping around the clock.

I clicked on the tv trying to find Christmas music but landed on a community channel. I could hear music playing, and with his hearing being impaired, it was like a live band had suddenly rushed into the small space.

He slowly came around the corner and parked himself. I realized it was polka music, and he was all entranced because of his polish heritage. He used to play the accordion when he was young, so it didn’t take much to make him stop in his tracks, and he forgot all about eating.

Over the noise, he said,

“Look at all those old people dancing!”

They all appeared slightly younger than him, but who wants to ruin his perception?

“What song is this?” he asked. “I can’t tell.”

That type of music makes me cringe, so I didn’t inherit some of his DNA. But, out of some long-forgotten memory bank, I said,

“I think it’s called Help Me Make It Through the Night.”

“Help me make it through the night? These people are so old, they aren’t going to make it through this song!”

“At least they are up and moving. You barely made it out of bed today,” I said. He laughed.

When I fill out a survey that asks me my age range, and I’m at the first number in the series, there’s still something to celebrate as I check off the box. I wonder how I will feel when I’m in the last bracket like him?

While it might appear that the world has sped up, it’s really about keeping up with changes and learning new things.

Speaking into the remote control has been a monumental leap forward. I purposely say the wrong thing just to see where it will lead me. It takes its revenge, though, and refuses to hear what I have said correctly at other times. It’s a love/hate relationship. It knows we have no buttons to use like the older models, so it owns us.

Then there are those times when I hear someone of my age say,

“Rewind that video.”

“You know we don’t have VCRs anymore, right?” I say nicely. I can’t let this soul wander around so blatantly showing their age.

I asked my daughter when she knew I was no longer breezing through life.

“When I had to teach you how to copy and paste on your computer.”

And she said it real quick, like it was just minutes ago. So apparently, that was a pivotal point in my aging process.

Isn’t that why I had kids? To take all the guesswork out of life? If I can’t figure something out, I just hand it over, they give it back, and I am on to my next technical issue.

One of the things I do not like is when an older person who may be related to me is in the middle of a health crisis and says,

“Just wait until you are my age!”

They say this from their hospital bed like they will feel better knowing someone else in the future will be in the same poor condition. Misery loves company, and when someone doesn’t have the answers, they will pull you in to make themselves feel better. They are just hoping that you will start talking about the ailments that plague you.

I stopped being quietly polite along the way and will say I refuse whatever they are trying to make me believe. I have said back,

“We were designed to be in good health and heal. That is what God wants.”

That usually changes the direction of the conversation for the better. I realized I didn’t have to agree with something just because it was spoken. The ‘respect your elders’ idea is fine unless they talk negatively. It’s wise to counteract those ideas before they take root and replace them with thoughts like this from 3 John 2 that states,

God wants me to prosper and be in health, even as my soul prospers. (KJV)

Why expect to get sick just because your cousin Nancy did? If you look at what others in your bloodline have as a diagnosis and claim it for yourself, you will live out what you believe.

I was reminded over the summer that age can be positive when I visited a cave that was discovered in 1881 by two brothers. As I stood in the depths of the caverns that had existed for way longer than I had, and they were still growing and bringing to life various gems, it reminded me that even as we age, we can be useful.

The history of its existence was made up of many new discoveries as explorers found new passageways and hidden places. As they kept searching, they kept finding.

That is how your walk with God can be. You toss aside what the world says is so important, like the number of candles on your last birthday, and know that there are many things you haven’t even understood yet.

The space was treated with great reverence, and while on tour, we were told to be very careful along the way, so we brought no harm to it. We were many feet below the surface, and for some reason, it felt safe to me, not suffocatingly frightening.

“When a horrible tornado went through, the owners came down here because they knew they would be safe,” our guide told us.

One of the advantages of being a little further along the way is that you can provide security for someone who hasn’t been down the same road. You have had experiences, some good, some not, that can shed light and bring revelation to someone who needs help.

One thing is for sure. No, not taxes and death, but yes. Other than those, there will always be problems that need solving, which is why we are here. When you can stand firm in the face of adversity and when someone younger than you witnesses this, their faith is allowed to grow.

Don’t fall for the lie that you are no longer valid because you think you’re too elderly to be of any use anymore. Digits are used in our society for crowd control. Like at the DMV, when you are standing in a sea of humanity, you are looking at a ticket that says 3000, which signifies that is the year they will get around to you.

The message is sent many times over to us through media that once you hit a particular time of life, you might as well hang it up. It’s a lie, so don’t fall for it.

The world may tell you that, but to God, you are more than a number.

(You can handle being number 2..you are only one step away from being the first.)

Peaceful

My dad has been residing in an assisted living for over two years, and it’s been an adjustment for both of us. For the first few months he was there, he was given a temporary unit for rent on the third floor while he waited for his permanent apartment to be repainted and freshly carpeted.

During that time, it was chaotic. I never knew what I was going to walk into when I went to visit. The place isn’t that big, but he never stayed stationary and traveled from floor to floor, making it difficult to locate him. One day, I needed his signature on a document. I am his power of attorney, so I go over everything with him and involve him as long as he can comprehend. This is a way for him not to feel that he has lost his independence entirely.

I was in a hurry, and it was approaching his evening meal. I asked the staff where he was, and I was told he was on the second floor, so I went there. No luck.

At that time of day, the line for the elevator is long, and I am able-bodied, so I always take the back stairwells for speed.

“I think I saw him on the third floor,” said another helper.

“Ok.”

Up a flight, I walked the halls that were like a ghost town.

How can one man who is slow as a snail be so elusive?

Another staff person said she saw him on second floor. Even though I had just been there, I tried it again. And got the same result.

Back to the stairs, I came down to first where I had started. I searched the lobby, both community rooms, and looked around the back of the building where he would sit to get fresh air.

Where’s Waldo had nothing on this guy.

I walked back to the elevator, where the crowd was thick with those waiting for assistance. It was wall to wall wheelchairs and walkers. I thought I would go back up to his apartment for one last glance, but in the meantime, I stood in the corner out of the way.

I also figured if I stopped looking, my moving target might eventually run into me.

The doors opened, and one of the aides pushed him out and right past me like I was invisible! He nodded and smiled at me on his way by like he was a king greeting one of the underlings.

He had a cookie in one hand and a styrofoam cup of milk in the other. He couldn’t hear me, and she didn’t speak English very well, so they kept on moving as I tried to fight my way past the throng.

I was on my tiptoes trying to get to him while dodging the masses. He was happily enjoying his ride. This person had just been driving a car on a revoked license two months prior, gripping on to his keys and driving privileges like a mad man and now was too busy with both hands full, slurping down snacks with an escort into the dining room.

My only advantage in apprehending him was that they got stuck in the hallway.

I put my hand on his shoulder.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

He looked up at me.

“When did you get here?”

“A while ago. Where have you been? I went to every floor.”

“Oh, she took me floor to floor. I have been riding on the elevator.”

“Why are you letting someone else push your wheelchair? Why are you not using your walker?”

He took this moment to chomp a bite off of his cookie and said,

“I don’t know.”

“You need to walk, and you need to use your leg muscles every day.”

“I know. I know,” he said like a rebellious teen, sucking down milk. Role reversal had happened somewhere along the way.

“I realize I am interrupting your busy schedule and your worldwide tour, but I need you to sign something.”

Right as I said that, she started pushing him forward away from me like a programmed machine. I stopped her and said,

“He’s coming with me. I will get him in there in a minute.”

It wasn’t like he would starve as I saw him take another cookie out of his shirt pocket.

I have had calls from him at 1 am, asking me what I’m doing, so we talk like it’s the middle of the afternoon.

“Do you know it’s almost 2 in the morning?” I will ask.

“It is?”

“Yes.”

“Why are you up, Chris?”

“Because you called me?”

“Oh,” and then the laugh.

He has no idea some of the stress and poor communication that I have faced on his behalf. But I don’t want him to know. He has given up everything he knew as familiar to be in a safer place like he should be. I have had to straighten up wrong billing, confront staff who haven’t always been attentive, and run errands when I would rather not.

“Chris, I have no Kleenex left, and they just gave me my last Tylenol. I’m going to need more in the morning.”

This was at 9:30 pm, with all stores closing at 10 pm during the shutdown and limited hours. And it was pouring rain.

“I hate to bother you with this.”

I had just finally sat down for a second.

“I will get it. Don’t worry.”

I can never leave him stranded, no matter what.

For weeks he had been telling me that he wanted a new bed. The one he was using had formed a crater in the middle so deep that he would get stuck if he rolled into it.

I ordered a new mattress for him. It showed up unexpectedly on Christmas Eve, and I set it all up. With his apartment at a scorching 100 degrees, I was an absolute sweaty mess, ripping apart the old one. He was thrilled to get it so his back wouldn’t hurt anymore. As soon as it was put together with the new sheets and the comforter I had gotten, he laid on it and immediately drifted off while I continued to battle the old one.

Once the activities started back up again after the lockdown, he made an effort to go. Reading over the schedule, he said,

“I will not go to Bingo.”

“Why? You don’t like it?”

“The lady who does it runs a tight ship. She scares me, and one of her arms is bigger than my legs, so you don’t mess with her.”

This was the man who was in a street gang at the age of 12 with a lead filled baseball bat on a chain and served in the military as a sergeant, but one woman calling numbers put the fear of God in him.

“She is scary, Chris. I stay clear of her.”

When the activity director asked him one day if he wanted to attend a different event, he inquired,

“Does this include beer and women?”

I shook my head.

“Do you see me standing right here? Do you see your daughter? Do you see me?”

“I see you,” he said, looking at me. “What about it?”

“And you realize my hearing is the best ever, right?” I asked.

He looked back at the activity lady.

“So, is there going to be beer and women?”

I went with him to chaperone, and I got looked up and down like he had found me off of Eharmony. I announced that I was his child so they all could relax, and I wasn’t in the competition. After half of a can of beer, he said,

“Where do I live again?”

I had to help him back to his apartment.

“I shouldn’t drink during the day,” he said.

“Maybe you shouldn’t ever if you can’t get yourself down one hallway.”

I don’t know if he heard me because he was dozing off.

When I saw that it was on the schedule to decorate pumpkins, I told him he needed to go.

“What? No, I’m not going to that!”

“I think you are.”

“Why would I go do that?” He put his finger by the side of his head and swirled it in a circle. This is his universal sign that going there was for those who had lost their minds.

I’m not above using the tricks my mom used to employ to get him to comply.

“You need to go do this, and I will take it home with me. I want you to do it for me.”

I saw the switch go off. The old ways still worked.

“Will they give me a knife?”

“Do you really think they are going to give you a sharp object?” I pretended to stab myself in the side of the neck.

His eyes always get big behind his glasses when he is processing.

“I suppose not,” he said, laughing. “That might be a bad idea around this place.”

Not giving him a choice, I took him, and a pumpkin was set in front of him with a paintbrush and paint.

“I gave up a good nap for this?”

“Yes. You did. Get to work on it.”

For someone who didn’t want to be there, he put in all his effort. He used to draw all the time, but his hands shake now, so it was more difficult. He was concentrating.

The person next to him tried to ask him a question at one point, and he said,

“Don’t bother me. I am busy.”

When he was done with it, he commented,

“I think the teeth make the whole thing.”

“I am assuming this isn’t a self-portrait, right?” I asked with a smile.

He laughed.

“What am I going to do with that?”

“I’m taking it with me.”

“Good riddance. Get it out of here! But thank you for coming to see me.”

“Even if you missed a nap?”

“I don’t nap.”

From moment to moment, I don’t know what he will remember or try to comprehend, so I’m very patient and protective over him. At one point, I didn’t know if I would ever speak to him again, but now it’s as if it never happened. I realized that I have been living this from Exodus 20:12:

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”

Without God, it wouldn’t have come back together in the way that it has. People who knew me a few years ago while I was on my anger induced year and a half sabbatical from my parents are astonished at the turnaround of where he and I are now.

It speaks to the mysterious ways we don’t always understand, working for the best on our behalf if we allow it. When you think everything is beyond hope, God can prove to you this from Matthew 19:26:

“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”(NIV)

Adding to that is Psalm 23:2 that says:

He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside quiet waters. (NIV)

Something that was once ripped to shreds and full of strife can be made peaceful.