Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Remaining Relevant: Pill Bottles, Trash and Prayers

And continuing the thoughts about aging:

I thought of my parents the other day as I was throwing out some empty prescription bottles. They took a lot of medications as they got older, and they had so many empty bottles all the time. How they kept up with refills I don't know, but they managed quite well somehow.

 They saved the empty bottles and there were usually several bags of them stacked in a corner. When I asked, they explained that they donated the bottles to a charity that sent them to Africa to be re-used. Apparently in Africa finding ways to get the pills safely home with people is difficult, and reusing the bottles saves a lot of money for the medical missions. So Dad would carefully remove the labels with a scraper, which took quite a bit of time as he had bad arthritis in his hands. At the time I thought, how silly. Now I see it differently.

Because, you see, it was really about remaining relevant even as age and accompanying health issues restricted my parents' ability to be out and doing. Travel was difficult, painful and time-consuming and they spent more and more time at home. Eventually Dad had to give up driving; Mom had stopped years ago. So they were reliant on others to take them shopping, to appointments and to church. The priest began coming to their home in the last few months of Mom's life because getting to church became too much for her.

But they found things they could still do, ways they could contribute to the wider world. They kept table scraps and composted them. Mom had a back-porch herb garden on a stand so that she could care for it easily. Sometimes they grew lettuce and onions there too.

They recycled their trash, carefully separating paper and glass and metal. Dad flattened boxes so they took up less space, smashed cans flat and rinsed out glass and plastic containers before putting them into the recycle containers. Mom saved magazines to pass on to nursing homes and anyone else who wanted them rather than toss them in the trash. They shredded paper and recycled that too.

They were fierce prayer warriors. Their prayers lists were long, and their morning and evening rosaries and other prayers took quite a while to complete. They prayed for many, many people, some that they knew, others perfect strangers to them. They took this mission seriously and devoutly.

35th wedding anniversary, 1980. They shared 61 anniversaries
 in the end.
When they passed away, I was in my mid-fifties, working full-time at a job an hour away from home. I was busy, stressed and tired most of the time. The time Mom and Dad spent on these endeavors seemed to me to be a waste of hours. Now I know differently. My parents were finding ways to stay involved and active, to give something back to society even as their ability to do so waned.

Today I am humbled by the words I've written here. In the past year I have been seeking ways to help. I may not be able to give much time, but I can give in other ways. I am finding what I care deeply about, like the flood victims, like this upcoming march. It's time to give back. It's time to honor my parents' wordless teachings.

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.

5 comments:

Boud said...

This tribute is lovely.

Celia said...

Thank you for sharing this. Much love in it.

Mac n' Janet said...

What a wonderful example your parents set for you.

annie said...

I respect their determination!
Sounds like a great set of parents!

Jenny said...

When I was in my mid30's my mamma was in her mid70's. I was taking care of her, raising a family, helping care for an inlaw with cancer.....it was such a full, crazy, hard time. I would sneak off & go to her little apartment in town where she lived in senior housing. It was so quiet there. I'd curl up on her couch & sleep, feeling safe & at peace with her nearby.

I raised one child, she raised 6. I asked her one day how she did it. I was so exhausted, I felt so inadequate & could only remember how strong she was...all that she did with so little(She also cared for my invalid dad at home from the time I was 15 until his death when I was 17, weeks before my 18th birthday). She told me it would get easier.She promised it wouldn't always be so very hard. She said she understood. She said one day she would be gone, my son would be grown & then I could rest.

She passed away when I was 40, she was 80, my son was 13. I was frustrated she didn't stay with me until things slowed down so I could have had her all to myself. I often think of her now, living in the empty nest & wishing she were here to spend all my free time with. But she taught me how to live well to the end. She was always busy with her hands & with her mind. She was always singing, reading, praying or laughing.

So when the world feels hard & impossible now, I remember her gift, the gift of finishing well. When I can't find a reason to help this world I decide to finish well for my son, just as she did for me. Those feelings are normal as we age I think. I only give up on the world in moments then just like my mamma, after a time I pick myself up & find some way to help again.

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