By Debra-Lynn Swearingen
She died as she had lived. Alone. She had been long forgotten by her church and went largely unnoticed by her neighbors. Her illness had rendered her a social misfit. She didn’t communicate well and when she did speak, everyone could tell she was afflicted.
Her medication had made her tongue thick, her hands shake, and her body rock back-and-forth. As involuntary as all of it was, one couldn’t help but wish she would stop. At one point, it was it was thought she would benefit from training in simple life functions; making purchases, counting money, and remembering walking paths through town. But her grasp of all that was short-lived. Age caught up with her, and dementia set in and robbed what was left of the little she had become.
Through the years, she would look in the mirror and want to fix her teeth and her hair so she could be pretty. But those days were far behind her. The disease had not only taken her abilities, but her looks too. Except for her eyes. If one spent any amount of time around her, they could catch glimpses of kindness there. A brief moment among vacant moments of who she once was. The stories about her were far more interesting than her life itself. She had become a tall-tale that grew as people speculated where things went wrong.
Even her funeral was an event of sorts. People came to pay their final respects. Respects that seemed to verify she was owed something that she never obtained. There was measurable shame as people offered condolences to the small gathering of loved ones. Palpable apologies for rejection and neglect of not only her, but them as well. People were lined up by the casket. Sideways glancing at what disease does and how it ravishes one who was once vibrant.
I felt bad that she was lying there like that for them to gawk at. Even though she looked at peace, I wanted to cover her up. There’s no dignity in death. None of them had seen her in life, for years. And there are few words of comfort for a family whose loved one endured such a fate. “Surely death is a great sorrow, but take comfort, Christ is Risen”, rolled off my tongue. As much as I believe and confess that, it seemed inadequate at that moment. I left wondering how that could be enough. I gave a card and what now seems a pittance, but I kept my apple pie in the car. The pretty pie in an aluminum pie plate stamped ‘made with love’, seemed to be too little, too late. Not nearly sufficient for those who had suffered the death of one who lived a life so empty.