Nana has suffered from acute arthritis for the last 40 years. I remember her soaking her hands in hot wax at night because they hurt so badly. A few weeks ago, Dad asked Nana how her arthritis was. For the first time he could remember, she told him that her hands and feet weren't bothering her anymore.
Great, I thought. At least that's one health issue she doesn't have to worry about right now.
But Dad went on to say that Nana's answer had bothered him a little bit. He explained that as we near the end of our time on earth, our minds begin to turn to the ethereal, the eternal. We quit focusing on our physical bodies as our spirit prepares for something far greater. We begin letting go of all the things that have tethered us to the world and we are able to embrace what comes next.
I have realized that I have a lot of tethers. Too many things unnecessarily tie me down. I am so paralyzed imagining Virginia's struggles twenty years from now that I don't have the energy to run through the sprinkler with her today. Most of what I was thinking about in the hospital with Nana was Virginia. I kept worrying about how anyone but Findley or I could ever take care of her. Watching how hard it was for Nana to get the care she needed even with the ability to communicate and do most things for herself, I was overcome by a dark cloud of fear about Virginia's life in years to come. But right now, she is 6. And Findley and I are healthy, young and able to care for her. I need to let go of my worries about her future.
While I was with Nana, I worried about my kids. I felt guilty that I had left them and guilty that I had been preoccupied with worrying about Nana. Now that I am home, I worry about Nana. Is she going to be ok? Is she without family in her final days? I tried for years to get Nana to move here and she refused. She wanted to be in her house, with her mountain views and all of her memories. So I need to let go of my guilt.
Findley and I went by Nana's house to do some laundry and make sure all her bills were paid. Her washer and dryer are in the basement and that has always been my favorite place in Nana's house. As a child I would spend hours down there, going through all of the things that she had stored. I would always find something that I couldn't live without- a board game, a bent hula hoop, or an old bike with deflated tires. This time was no different. I emerged with a box of old quilts that Nana's mother made. I remember sitting on those quilts with Nana and learning my colors. Somehow it helped to take them with me.
Nana's accumulation of things never bothered me as a child. The basement seemed like a trove of treasures, not evidence of shattered dreams. There are racks and racks of my mother's clothes, all of her books and notes from Vandy and medical school, girl scout pins, contact cases, Easter baskets, magazines and suitcases. There are also hundreds of dolls and toys that Nana packed up in October of 1953 when her oldest daughter died of leukemia at age 10.
I obviously know why Nana kept these things. It wasn't my mother's Lilly dresses that she cared about or little Dianne's baby bathing station. Those things reminded her of people she had loved and lost and she just couldn't bear to let them go. I understand it, I really do. But I can't help but wonder if all those things haven't been weighing her down. Could she have embraced the last thirty years better if she just could have let it all go?
I am a lot like Nana. Both of us have been called a spit fire on multiple occasions. I can see in myself the same stubborn refusal to let some of the hard things in my life go. It's as if Nana thought that by moving on and seeking joy, she would be dishonoring the memories of her daughters. If they weren't here to enjoy life, she didn't want to either. It is exactly the way I am prone to think about my own life. If Sissy isn't happy, how can I be?
I don't have any physical reminders of my suffering that I need to give away. I wish it were as simple as holding a garage sale and then sweeping out the dirt that was let behind. But for me, I am tethered by emotions that try to take control of my life. Anxiety about Virginia's future. Guilt over my inability to take care of everyone I love. Anger over what happened to Sissy. Shattered expectations of what our life and hers would be like.
It is time for me to let some things go. The things of this earth, both the good and the bad, are fleeting. If we cling to them too tightly, they will certainly weigh us down. I don't need to feel guilty in my truly happy times, but thankful. As I begin to release some of my worry, guilt, and sorrow, surely I will be much freer to embrace the next moment in my life, whatever it may hold.