A life dedicated to service...

Week 40: Letting go

Today Waldi (the therapy hound) and I visited a friend who used to come and meditate with us. She now lives in a ‘complex care’ nursing home.

“Take the elevator to the secure area on the 4th floor.”  Getting off the elevator and entering through a locked door, wrun into a gathering of elderly people: some in wheelchairs, other wandering or standing idly, yet others sitting on a sofa and in arm chairs. Several wave at us as if they’ve been waiting for our arrival.. “I love Lucy” plays loudly on the tellie; better than WWII on the History Channel, I mutter.

We soon find our friend, walking by herself while holding on to wooden railing that runs the length of the hallway. We introduce ourselves but don’t see recognition in her eyes. Noticing the dog, What’s his name? We step around people — wheelchairs that have become entangled; a voice calls Help, Help from a wheelchair that’s stuck in a doorway. Very little interaction, hardly a word spoken: eery! I count more women than men by a 3:1 margin.

Our friend acts the gracious  hostess. Sliding a hand through my arm, she guides us past the TV room: again the waving and the staring. Lucy continues her high-jinks, but the audience sits quietly, several seem to be napping. Lone riders clog the passage in their wheelchairs without going anywhere. A nurse wheels a cart into their midst (like an ice-cream vendor), dispensing afternoon meds: some in pill form, others stirred into apple sauce.

We find a quiet room, sit near a window. Dogs pee. No indication that she recognizes us “from before.” Look at my skirt as she takes tentative dancing steps. I admire her shoes. Do they have dogs? as she vaguely points towards the window.

Trying to entertain, I request that Waldi do his roll-over trick. How old is she? I soon let go of trying to make conversation and begin to follow her from one thought to another. I don’t like cats. Moment by moment. No worries here. Time to let go of this old friend.

Dementia is a general term that refers to a variety of brain disorders. Physical changes in the brain cause dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is irreversible and destroys brain cells, causing thinking ability and memory to deteriorate. (Alzheimer’s Society of Canada)

We embrace “good bye” with a kiss on the cheeks: feels light as a feather. May I come again . . . ? No reply as she resumes her walk along the wooden railing. We exit by way of a security code punched high up on the wall, figure out the hidden elevator button, and take three stabs at the key pad (“Press 4, 3, 2, 1, # in reverse order”) to escape into the autumn air. Dog seeks shrub to pee, master prays, Don’t let me end like that.

Is it because you believe you are born that you fear death? What was it that was born? Who is it that dies? Look within. What was your face before you were born? Who you are, in reality, was never born and never dies. Let go of what you think you are and become who you have always been. (Stephen Levine*)

What am I afraid of?

What are you afraid of?

* Levine, Stephen. Who dies? An investigation of conscious living and conscious dying. Anchor Books, 1982, p. 179.

About the Author
Peter lives in Victoria, BC, where he volunteers in health-care. teaches mindfulness meditation, and offers end-of-life care.
  1. Elanna Reply

    Thank you for sharing your experiences – and making meaning of them – so that we may all contemplate and learn.
    Many blessings to you.

  2. Lois Reply

    Compassion, understanding, sadness, respect, Love and the tears that flow as I read this. Courage to keep investigating…
    These I share with you, Peter.
    Grateful, Lois

  3. H.B. Reply


  4. Peter Reply

    Two weird good-byes in short succession. A couple of weeks ago, looking into the eyes of someone who knew that she’d be dead at 11 am that morning (with medical assistance at her request) and then this sweet being, able to talk and walk while neurologically dead to the world.

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