This piece is dedicated to the people who show up everyday as their fullest selves. And then go home and take care of themselves, so they can choose to show up again and again.
My darling grandmother, your paper thin hands smooth as silk in mine, rubbing lotion into your palms. Your graceful surrender to old age, to being taken care of by a group of strangers, who become closer than family. A team of people who show up every day and wash and watch and entertain you, though we don't know if you want to be entertained.
"I'm fine, I'm fine." Your refrain in a slightly lilting Southern Indiana accent. Is it the truth or is it decades of emotional repression?
Your blue eyes are so bright, in a sea of white hair, pale skin, wrinkled like an elephant but soft like velvet.
One day we show up and you light up like a Christmas tree at seeing us, your granddaughters, and another day you are curled up like a small child in your guard rail bed, eyes blink open and focus, unfocused on me.
"Paige is that you?" Yes yes it's me. Your face starts to smile. I rub your back and feel contentedness at being able to offer this small comfort.
We stay awhile, while you sleep, unsure if you'll get up again, or just sleep today. Thirty minutes later you shoot up awake.
"My brain started working again," you say and start to sit up.
We visit for a few minutes, I hand you the chocolate milkshake we brought for you. I remind you I'm here visiting for a few days.
"I have to go to the bathroom!" You tell me.
I help you to the bathroom, we make it through, you holding yourself up by the rail at the toilet, me wiping up the mess.
Another day you have an accident, "Uh oh, I've gone in my pants."
"Pee?" I inquire.
"No dear, that wouldn't be a problem." I love how you've always called me dear.
We manage to get to the bathroom, you directing me.
"Help me get my pants down and assess the damage." You're laughing the whole way through, not embarrassed laughter, the genuine kind. Giggling.
When we visit you we spend as much time as we can visiting without exhausting you.
My 94-year-old grandmother lives in a memory care unit in Indiana and has been diagnosed with mild dementia.
And I won't go into all the details of who and how and why and what, but what I know is that that's not where I want to end this life.
That's not where I want anyone to be, little access to outside, other residents in varying stages of memory loss, fluorescent lighting... but this isn't a critique of elder care, it's a piece about surrender and acceptance, and the gratitude that arises out of these qualities.
And for my grandmother for now, with every circumstance that there is involved, it is what it is. I have accepted and surrendered to her situation and found ways to bring joy to her when I can. When I visit my grandmother it is with the intention to see the good, see the love, notice the effort and work of the people who are there everyday caring for this population of elders. And being there, on this recent trip, reminded me of the work that there is to do everywhere and what it takes to keep showing up over and over again every day.
The ways that we show up in our lives, whether that is directly in service to a population of people, or in service to our families, or friends, make a huge difference in this life.
It matters that a beautiful woman named Pearl, who I see every time I go and visit my grandmother, is still working there. Pearl smiles and laughs and plays music and dances. She cries in empathy when she walks an elderly woman down the hallway who's confused and doesn't know where she is. It matters that someone places the silverware beautifully on the table around the fake flower arrangements that even fooled me! It matters that the hospice nurse, Chris, calls me whenever he gets the chance to let me know that my grandma is doing okay.
Each of these moments, they matter. And then the next moment matters. The moment when we look within.
And it's that next moment, when Pearl goes home, and I get back from my trip and all the caregivers retreat to their private lives that matters too, it matters as much as the front facing moment.
That next moment is the one where we look inward and find what we need to do next, which is care for ourSelves. Because if we don't take the time to do that, we are nothing. We have nothing to give, no way to show up again. If we're not caring for ourselves, we're not available. We're not available to do continue to show up.
So the work continues inside. It continues in acknowledging and paying attention to what we need, when we need rest, when we need tears, when we need friendship, when we need companionship, when we need retreat and alone time, we can't go, go, go every single second.
The transformation of the way that we live, to a life of kindness, love, and conscious living is a big job. And though it may at times feel like it's an emergency, when we look at all the "issues." This isn't an emergency that requires bursts of adrenaline and superhuman feats. It's an evolution, a process. It requires patience and love and time and trust. But what do we trust?
What do we trust when we're in this era of not trusting systems? When we're in this era of questioning everything? We trust ourselves, we do our own work to find the calm, present peace, love, contentment, joy and gratitude that lives at the heart of who we are. And then we move from there.
Without self care despair and anxiety arise. Without taking good care of ourselves we get overworked, overwhelmed, and under-resourced.
So what do you do to take care of yourself? I don't know the answer for you. But I know that the answer for me is living from Presence. Dedicating myself to unraveling every single story that stops me from showing up fully and authentically in the world. Speaking about this. Creating community through events. Singing, growing a garden of food every year not for fear but for fun, teaching about bees, birds, bats and helping guide others on their own journeys of unraveling that which no longer serves.
There is so much to do, but none of that "doing" does good without first grounding into beingness, into love, connection, gratitude. We can't change our recycling stream without a loving, supporting community. We can't change our food system without paying our farmers and knowing who they are and how it works to be a farmer.
We can't shift the trajectory of the evolution of human consciousness without changing ourselves, without caring for our own wellbeing so that we can show up over and over again.
Paige Doughty is a personal counselor and creative business coach. My approach helps clients free themselves from the confines of their own patterned thoughts to live in the present with authenticity and joy. I draw from Eastern spiritual traditions, 14 plus years of spiritual study and practice and my experience as an educator, performer, doubt-filled teenager, and mother to guide people toward living without suffering.
Are you ready to step off of the “wheel of suffering” and experience the “un-caused joy” of life that lies within?
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