What will you remember at the end of the day…at the end of your life?
Life as a passion. Life as a pleasure. Life as a satisfaction.
Life as a contribution. Life as an impact. Life as mercy.
I just spent time with my 97 year old aunt. She is my godmother and I am named after her. I have probably seen her for the last time. I held her hand and told her how much I loved her and what a wonderful aunt she had been. I was saying goodbye. She smiled.
Lessons from My Aunt
What did I learn from the brief last visit with my aunt? I learned of the suffering of aging.
- Physical Vanity: Yes, it is shocking to grow old visibly. She was not vain in her incredible beauty when she was young, but in her elderhood she was appalled at what had changed. The sagging flesh with its deep wrinkles. The thin hair lacking lustre. The spots. “Look at me, Lynn” she cried. Her smile was still alive and loving.
- Aging biology: Nothing tastes good or the way she remembers it. Taste buds have worn out. Her fingers are cold and blue as her warm blood no longer pulses to her extremities.
- Physical pain and immobility. Chronic pain and dependence on pain killers due to severe arthritis. She can’t move on her own, barely able to reach for her ice tea. Unable to turn over in bed. Her rage at the loss of power and comfort in her own body.
- Agonizing boredom. She used to read a novel a day. She loved her TV soap opera. No more reading. TV is just distracting noise.
- She longs for death but clings to life.
But what saddened me and concerned me is her lack of a sense of the meaning of her life. At 97 she doesn’t know how to reflect on her years as a life of contribution, impact and mercy. She is unaware of the extraordinary impact she made on so many lives. She is not celebrating her contribution as she lies awake in the dark at the end of her merciful and good life. She bemoans her existence. She no longer experiences passion or pleasure or satisfaction. She does not feel her own goodness.
My Aunt’s Contribution, Impact and Mercy…
My aunt made a very special contribution to over 300 individuals. She was their foster mother. She lovingly fostered over 300 newborns until they were adopted. 300!! I urged her to remember each one of them in her nighttime suffering and loneliness.
I am filled with awe at this contribution and I am sure you are. All the nighttime feedings, the diaper changes, the appointments with the pediatricians. All her joy at buying the outfits they wore to meet their new parents.
What is sad is that my aunt only thought of her fostering as her passion, her pleasure and her satisfaction. She has no sense of her contribution or her impact. She finds no mercy in her mercy.
In many ways, I witnessed and learned about the gifts of love and mercy from my aunt. I loved being with her and her babies. My children loved to visit her and her babies. Being with her and her babies was being in the presence of extraordinary love.
In this last visit, her suffering taught me that our passions, pleasures and satisfactions will not comfort our own sufferings. It is the memories of our unselfish contributions and our merciful impact on others that will offer comfort and joy in our last reflections on our lives.
A Gift from My Aunt
I want my aunt’s sorry state to offer you a gift…to impact your life. You must learn to celebrate your contribution and your impact on others every day. You must receive mercy.
Keep a mercy journal where you write down what you did for others during the day. Little and simple mercies like smiles or letting another driver pull in front of you. Big and complex mercies like listening with compassion to another’s sorrow. You have had impact. You have made a contribution. You have been merciful. Write it down.
In Christianity, there are the nine Beatitudes or Blessings. The fifth and middle beatitude is “Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy.“ My aunt gave exquisite mercy to these little human beings. She gave it abundantly. But could she receive mercy?
Did she ever think about giving and receiving mercy? Do you?
So let her make an impact on your life. Keep and treasure your mercy memories.
To me, mercy is unconditional love. When you are merciful you have a positive impact. You make a positive contribution to another’s life. You make them feel good and feel their own goodness. You support their personal destiny. You see them, listen to them, touch them. You forgive, not from power but from love.
Don’t forget to record the mercies you received.
Practice remembering mercy every day.
I wrote the above in early June. My aunt passed away on the day of the Solar Eclipse in the home of her daughter surrounded by grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I wonder if her foster children, those who were blessed with her mercy and devotion, had a strange sense of loss that day.
Mercy is one of my favorite words right up there with grace. It goes beyond what is humanly possible; it is a glimpse of the divine.
That was beautiful Lynne . Your aunt Evelyn inspired me , for my conscious aging journey , to help me comfort my parents in their present struggles with health challenges , , and wisdom fior my sister and brother in law in this time of saying goodbye dying father in law! Tfank you aunt Evelyn ! Ps my godmother was named Aunt Evelyn , she was my grandfathers’, whom I never met , sister !
Thank you Lynn. I remember you coming to York many moons ago ~ and I always appreciate your writing ~ even more so now, as I am having a year’s sabbatical from my work as a Kindergarten teacher to live in a beautiful and remote place in Spain. X
Beautiful!! Your words are a blessing! Thank you for sharing Lynn!
My father is in Hospice at a hospital with my stepmother in Florida as Hurricane Irma is expected to land tomorrow. I talk to my stepmother by phone and I will work with this blog in anticipation to my next conversation with her. I am literally sick in the fact that I am not there (with an absolutely miserable cold), but I am with my mother in Upstate NY who has just gotten out of Rehab for a knee replacement. At this stage of her recovery she could not be in her home alone. “Mercy” will be in my thinking/feeling /willing today. Namaste.
A beautiful admonition, Lynn. It will be a kinder world for each person who is kind to themselves in this way. It is the remembrance of the Holy in us, every loving and serving itself in this house of mirrors.
I have just gotten around to reading this, Lynn and am in total accord with your sentiments ( is that the right word?) Your words echo those of the quotation by Eric Fromm that is the banner headline to your Home Page. All the Zen Masters, all the Sufi Sheiks are in concord – live fully and consciously now and strive to remember your contributions at the ‘ leave-taking’…easier said than done I must add! ‘ In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful… ‘ Muslim opening prayer. One Source, One Return Home, many religions and Ways IN BETWEEN! PS. If you are not so busy in November, Alastair Mcintosh is leading a 7-day retreat on Iona, sacred Isle of Western Scotland with exploring the Ten Beatitudes as Cycles of Grace as his theme. See http://www.stcolumba-hotel.co.uk. You might visit Findhorn at the same time as it is not so far away from Iona. Take time out?
Thank you for this loving, wise and mercy-filled sharing of your aunt’s story. How wonderful to get to know her and about her amazing life through you. My deepest condolences to you and your family for her loss.