When I wrote my last article "The Next Time You See An Old Man On The Bus," little did I know that my work as the caregiver for an 85-year-old man - with quite a delightful history himself - was coming to an end.
For the last three and a half years, I have provided 24/7 care to my aged friend with a few exceptions. I cooked, I cleaned, I bathed, I laundered, I cajoled, I listened, I asked questions. I made some difficult and uncomfortable decisions, much like a parent does when considering the greater welfare of their child. I comforted and was called in the middle of the night when things were too confusing or too painful to wait until morning.
At times, I hated it. Caring for this man was getting in the way of my social life, my romantic life - my boyfriend (understandably) didn't feel that comfortable in the house of a dying priest and I didn't feel that comfortable being away for very long. I often didn't know what to do, but I tried. I often didn't feel like I had the energy to continue, but somehow, I managed to do so.
Mostly, I loved it. I was able to care for someone I really cared for. It taught me a lot about love. It taught me a lot about my capacity to love and be loved. And it was not romantic. It was filial on both sides. We acted more like brothers than anything else. Brothers who accepted each other, became irritated with each other laughed together and shared life in stories and concerns and laughter.
What I did feel was a sense of responsibility. Strange, you might say, because he wasn't a blood relative.
No, but he was family.
Maybe not family in the strictest sense, or even in the euphemistic sense - he was part of my heart. He was also part of the heart of my parents, siblings and partner. He was one of those people who could slip in there with ease and stay there quite comfortably. We LGBT persons often pick our families, or get chosen by them from among the community- we gravitate toward people that make us feel at home. That's how it worked with us, too.
He died on April 24th.
I planned the funeral, picked out the casket, notified friends and relatives, wrote the obituary and, at the request of the bishop (a very cool guy), delivered the eulogy. We buried him, had a great lunch afterward and celebrated his life as best we could. Ken stayed an extra day with me, but then had to go home across the mountains and I faced this enormous house for the first time on my own.
It was so quiet. The memory of that first night alone is still so vivid for me. I noticed the noises the house makes - noises I hadn't been able to hear with the oxygen machine and humidifiers running. It took me a week to sleep through the night.
I'm learning to cope. Sometimes when I'm feeling a sad fit coming on, I turn the music up and dance, letting movement take the place of tears, reminding myself that life goes on, even in invisible ways. I feel connection to all the funerals I attended or presided at, all the families I comforted and held. I feel the celebration as well as the sadness. Maybe it's my Irish heritage, maybe it's my Catholic inculturation, maybe it's my Buddhist practice. Whatever it is, it's helping me grow.
Sadness is uncomfortable, but it's incredibly important - it helps remind me what I value in my life. And I valued this man, his wisdom, his love and concern for me, which just seemed to amplify mine for him. It was a difficult, incredible, frustrating, rewarding experience.
I still feel sad, but I'm definitely not sorry.