To age gracefully, you have to accept loss and embrace change.
Reflecting on her brother’s passing a year earlier, my friend Mary shared: “to age gracefully, I am told, you have to accept loss and embrace change. Easier said than done.” She lost her oldest brother to COVID in April 2020. I do not know who shared those words with her. But they are true and real. They are the bookends to being a human in this world.
I remember knowing during and after 9/11 that nothing as we knew it would ever be the same. A knowing of the same sort occupied me for a long while after I lost my mother in 2017. Such change sets us in front of a turnstile towards a new frontier. Nothing can or will ever be the same.
The chair has been in my family for many years. Countless years. Just there. In a corner or near a window. I remember seeing it in different spaces. Sometimes it was placed in storage. There, but not forgotten. All the years of moving and change, the chair came with us. For a very long time the chair rested in the entranceway to my parent’s home. The honorable role of quietly welcoming visitors in and out year after year. The chair sat in the corner and watched grandchildren climb up the stairs to see Pop and Grammy for lunch or to make meatballs or to watch a movie, to water the basil. To just be.
The chair was one my mother loved for reasons still fully unknown to me. Years ago I recall that she was determined to bring a little life back into the chair. Maybe she was in a life transition amidst change and loss. She explored how and where to have the chair recaned. No one ever sat in the chair; it was lopsided and crooked on all fours. Yet, it was a respected piece of furniture as its duty was known only to just be there.
The chair respectfully watched my mother walk up the stairs, head low, slow steps from the breathless disbelief of hearing she was diagnosed with cancer. The chair was there as a fixture, a known visual landmark on the unknown road ahead. The chair watched my mother’s four year battle with her disease. The chemo days. The radiation days. The happy, light remission days. The sad, ending days.
Those entryway stairs became more difficult for my mother to manage later in her illness. Each time she went down, and then back up, she felt a mix of exhaustion and a dash of pride that she’d conquer the stairs. In June of 2017 the chair bid my mother a final farewell as she descended them for the last time. With the help of a most gracious EMT whose name I do not recall, he paused in the entrance way as if to allow her a moment. To catch her breath and to respect the gravity of the departure.
The EMT carefully tucked her into the ambulance with me in the back with her, an allowance made that day, the EMT secretly shared, which was not really allowed. He just knew. He played music for us that sounded like a variety of movie scores. My mother loved the movies. We travelled on the highway to the hospital with calm and peace in the air. With a knowing to my core that nothing would ever be the same. She passed away five days later.
The chair remained with me when it moved from my parents home, to my home and then on to another home. The chair, in this home, spent the first few months in the shed turned upside down on an old coffee table. But I saw it one day out there and brought it inside. Welcoming it back into the fold. Soon it became a catch all and held shirts and towels and other things tossed on it or over it. Quietly beginning to fulfill its duty again.
I bought a can of paint last Fall to refresh the chair and offer it another breath of life. But the can sat unopened for months. And the chair remained adorned sometimes with a shirt, a blanket, or a lone sock just watching us as we moved about through the months of the pandemic in fear, loss, defeat, courage – every day, day after day. Slow days. Dark days.
The pandemic year went from one day to one month to one season to one year. Late on Easter Sunday, a few weeks ago, I took the can of paint from the closet shelf and set up a painting station on the back porch of this new home. A home that awaits new memories, treasured photographs and gatherings again to set into its roots and foundation. The old bones and wooden flesh of this chair received the paint thirstily and readily.
And now the chair sits in my home office. Just over my right shoulder near my favorite books and photos of my family, my mother. The chair watching right nearby as I traverse the days of transition, thinking and worrying, the days of working from home that blended into nights and weekends of being at home.
Here in this space in late afternoons the sun’s rays warm the cane seat at the late day hour of 6:30 pm. Just there. That chair. In that time of day my momma loved. Whispers from its aged wood remind me time will pass, this time will pass. Lighter days.
Knowing exactly what its purpose is, knowing it is still the same chair, though no one can sit on it because it is lopsided and cannot support a whole body. But rather that this chair supports the heart and soul of a body. With every blessing the chair will witness us in lighter days and feel the vibration of a full house. And will remind us that even amidst loss and change we can, in grace, move forward.