You Are Not Atlas
When my Nana died it was the first time I really had to go through the grieving process fully for someone close to me. One of the rituals of her faith is having close family and friends carry her casket from the altar to the hearse and then from the hearse to to the grave. It’s a ritual I love.
If you search the internet for pallbearer within the top five returned questions is: What are the physical demands of a pallbearer? They’re not nothing. A casket is pretty substantial, and unless you’re carrying my Nana the person may be as well. But that is split among the friends and family you are with in that moment.You can’t save the world with every post, or shared link, or call so save yourself the energy and emotional labor of trying.
How can you really help those within your reach?
And always remember that you’re not alone in what you are doing.
Dr. Jen Phillips shared an anecdote on Twitter about her Mom. Dr. Phillips is struggling with the surprisingly common idea that a life like her Mom’s doesn’t have enough value to merit receiving the vaccine.
My mom has dementia & has lived in a dedicated memory care home 3 years. She received her first Moderna shot today. For the last year there’s been a lot of talk about how to assign value to lives like hers, so I want to tell you a story about the necklace she’s wearing.
I haven’t seen her in person in months, but a few weeks ago on a FaceTime call I asked her what she wanted for her birthday. The question was purely one of conversational convention as she hasn’t been able to answer such things substantively in a long while. But this time with no hesitation at all, “a strand of pearls!”
And she didn’t stop there. She described the exact length, style & substance in great detail. I had my marching orders! After checking w/ staff to make sure there weren’t any restrictions on gifting jewelry, I shopped.
Found the perfect strand, just as she had described. I had no expectation that she would call asking for them, but they were a crystallized reality in her mind and I felt she would respond to them regardless. I arranged a “window visit” for her birthday, delivered the pearls via a caregiver who waited for her to open the box and then helped her don them.
She was delighted. She glowed. She remarked that they were the PERFECT length and we talked about how good they feel on the skin and how they go with everything. And then… without pause she launched into a perfect soprano rendition of “Full Fathom Five Thy Father Lies” (from The Tempest). She sang it twice through flawlessly.The pearls were the hook that dredged “those are pearls that were his eyes” and the rest of it up from the deepest fathoms of her mind, where a lifetime of verse and poetry readings lie quiet bit perfectly preserved and waiting for daylight.
Our conversation shifted to art, & we talked of Vermeer’s “Woman with a Pearl Necklace”. She posed just so, lamented that she did not have her yellow and ermine robes on today. She posed for this picture, snapped through the window, as the house cat snuggled at the foot of her bed and waited for her, the favorite, to be free to stroke him again.She lives only in the moment, the biographical continuity of her rich life long gone. But so much remains.
Libraries of art, music, dance, and world culture dwell behind locked doors, but the keys come in all shapes and sizes, and brilliant light shines through the keyholes and pierces the darkness. It gives her great comfort & confidence to demonstrate her knowledge & it brings joy to most everyone present when she holds forth. Some people—more than I ever suspected, I am dismayed to discover—don’t think her life is worth living.
They judge that her failing, unreliable mind is not worth wasting a precious medical miracle on. I disagree. Not because of my attachment or unwillingness to let her go—that decision is made, Alzheimer’s is a long goodbye—but because so much of her is still there. She lives in many joyful moments. She adds humor and intelligence and vivacity to the lives of many. She is her whole self. She is a woman with a strand of pearls. Pearls that contain multitudes and memories and comfort. Their luster might be obscured, but they reveal their soft brilliance in lovely ways, every day. It’s my job to tell her stories now and this is one of them.The song, which I’m certain she learned in school back in 1950s London:
Visit the thread for folks sharing stories about their folks. It’s really lovely.