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National Volunteer Week: Monday

20 April 2009

Well, folks, it’s that time of year again. National Volunteer Week has arrived, and so it’s time for me to bombard you with daily do-goodings in a segment I like to call BLOGIVING. (when did I turn into a talk-show host??)

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I’m excited to learn along with you this week, because while finding creative ways to help people is always on my heart, it’s not always on my to-do list. So a few little reminders will do us all some good.

Today I’m going to focus on something very personal, but also 100% universal: death. (“oh boy!” you say, “just what i needed to read today!” but hang out. please.)

I’m reading Broken Open by Elizabeth Lesser, and boy is it ever chap-stick for your soul.
I recommend it for anyone going through a tough life-moment (what she calls a Phoenix Process) or anyone who knows someone who’s going through a tough life-moment. So basically, for anyone.
She devotes a whole section of the book to birth and death, and that’s where I am right now. Think of how much of your daily life is devoted to avoiding death: seat belts, your diet, quitting smoking, avoiding wild animals, etc. YES, these are all good things to do, but at the same time, it’s dangerous to ignore death and dying people, when death should be honored as part of life.

“When I teach workshops on death and dying, I break the study of death down into three simple rules. The first is that death is not something that happens only once at the end of life; from the moment we are born we are dying every day in all sorts of physical, emotional, and spiritual ways. The next rule for all of us dying people is that grief is good–that it is a sign of how well we have loved. And the last thing to know about death is that the death of the body is the start of an adventure. We may not know where that adventure will lead, but we can approach it with the same kind of hopeful anticipation and nervous butterflies that we feel before the start of a trip to a foreign land.”

So here’s how this relates to me. I’m facing the death of my last grandparent, Grandma Ilene. She’s been battling Alzheimer’s for a long time now, but her biggest decline has taken place just since Christmas this year.
Today I went with mom to see her at the nursing home where she’s lived since September. My mom and uncle are there several times a week, and I’ve gone just a handful of times myself, but I’m getting used to the unique atmosphere of a place like this.
smells: bleached floors, beanie-weenies, body functions
sounds: too-loud TVs, shouts and moans, whirring of machines
sights: inspirational paintings, wheelchairs, confused faces

It would certainly be easier for me to just ignore this stage of her life, and live as though she’s already gone, and we’re just waiting around for the funeral.
It’s bizarre, and i certainly can’t connect with her like i used to (she doesn’t even know what walmart is anymore, and trips to walmart with gma were a chief part of my childhood) but sometimes moments are delightful (like the day she thought the date 3/1 written on a band-aid meant “three for a dollar”, or like today, when mom said “who’s this?” and after a long pause, grandma said, “that’s Sarah”).
She’s still there, even though she isn’t.

There are all sorts of strange, sad stories from my visits with grandma.
The glass bird cage in the visiting area where we sit. The feeling of life trapped behind walls.
The lady in a pvc-pipe walker-with-a-seat who wandered into grandma’s room, doing nothing but say random numbers out loud “77, 182, 56”.

It doesn’t make sense, it isn’t fair. But it’s life, and I have to believe that a little bit of love makes it better.

There are people out there who need love, even when they seem the least lovable, and when we have the chance, we should show it to them.
That’s all I’m sayin’.

So here we go NVW09! I promise future entries won’t all be such downers.

But you don’t have to take my word for it…
Excellent NYT article on friendship and health
Alzheimer’s Association official website
More info on Elizabeth Lesser

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