Circles of Life

Were we led all this way for Birth or Death?  There was a birth certainly.  We had evidence and no doubt.  I had seen birth and death, but had thought they were different.

T.S. Eliot (Journey of the Magi)

When we were younger, in our twenties, with all of life ahead of us, weddings came up frequently among our friends and acquaintances.  Never a summer went by without at least one or two to celebrate.  A few years later, everyone was having babies, and there were showers and christenings to participate in.  As offspring of older parents, we both began dealing with the loss of our parents soon than most of our acquaintances, both through old age and illness, but it wasn’t long before cousins and friends began grieving such losses themselves.  The last few years has been a plateau with hardly any of these life passages, but suddenly we seem to be back on this particular circle – a colleague lost her daughter last week to an anaphylactic reaction which was too strong for her epi-pen.  An old friend of my father’s passed away last weekend, after a few years of increasing ill health.  On the other hand, a friend of my daughter’s is getting married next week.  Another colleague is about to go off on maternity leave.

Yesterday, my plans to work in the vegetable garden, getting caught up on weeding, transplanting etc were abruptly put on hold when Lifeline called me to say that my neighbour’s alert button had been activated, and he wasn’t responding to their call, would I please go and check.  This happened a month ago, and turned out to be a false alarm – he’d knocked his bracelet while working in his greenhouse, and never realized it (he’s very deaf).  So I wasn’t initially concerned.  However, long story short, this time was different.  When we eventually got in (we have a spare key), we found him on the floor of his bedroom where he’d been since the night before. His wife is away visiting grandkids, so he was on his own.  He was OK, but we called the paramedics anyway – at 94, with brittle joints, it seemed risky to let him move and he was complaining of pain in his shoulder.  Poor guy – he was furious that his body was letting him down like this, but he was telling me that his body is wearing out after a life of hard knocks.  And in the same breath, he’s telling me how many grandkids, and great grandkids they have, and his pride comes through loud and clear.

Once he’d been taken to the hospital, and we’d locked up behind the paramedics and come home again, it was hard to go on with all the mundane things of the day. Eliot goes on to say in his poem Journey of the Magi, that: “this Birth was hard and bitter agony for us”.  I would have flipped that yesterday to say that watching an aging man used to a physical independent life have that independence wrested from him by a failing body is a hard and bitter agony.  He was not happy that I called the ambulance.  Due to his very poor mobility, I’m sure he’s worried that it’s not long before he needs to be placed in care.  And he will hate that.  But his wife is tiny, and elderly too, there is no way she can cope if he falls like that.  I hate that I was the person that has started the ball rolling that will probably lead to him losing his independence, but I know I was right to call the paramedics.  Life is tough sometimes.

chicks 001 small chicks 006 small

And then…this morning, when I went to let the chickens out, I could hear cheeping from the broody coop.  Right on schedule Mama the broody hen was hatching her eggs.  She wasn’t happy to have me check on her, but at that point in the morning two little golden balls of fluff had emerged, and by lunchtime, a black one, a white one and two more golden ones were evident.  She was sitting on 12 eggs, so we’ll see how many more hatch, but I was reminded of the inexorability of the force of life.  It surges onward, powering this cycle of birth and death,  all the ups and downs of life in between.

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9 thoughts on “Circles of Life

  1. That circle of life is a persistent beastie!
    Hooray to the chickens hatching, the imminent birth and impending nuptials; heartfelt sympathy to those coping with other stages of the cycle.
    As for you, you have my utmost admiration for being brave and clearheaded enough to ring the paramedics even though you knew the process it could/would kick-start.
    Blimmin’ bodies. They have some definite design faults!

    • My dad hated the aging process, and was in complete denial about it all till he fell off a ladder and my stepmum got stern with him. He would have agreed with you, but in much stronger language.

      I know you’re going through your own circle of life issues within your family these days, and I admit I think of that often when dealing with my neighbours on the other side – they’re both 86, and while he is still pretty fit and is outside a good part of every day, she has early stage dementia and is getting odder by the day. I know he worries about what’s coming for her, while I privately worry about what will happen if he goes first, Ah well, that’s borrowing trouble as my gran would say.

  2. I am starting to struggle with my body not being able to do what it used to and it is a hard pill to swallow…
    I’ve seen that struggle with older people losing their independence bit by bit – it’s hard. I will fight it I know, but I hope not to anyone else’s detriment. My best friend spends 4-5 hours a day, a couple of times a week driving up to her parents home to take care of them, clean their house, take them to Dr. appts., etc… because they refuse to move closer to her, or move into an elder care facility, or even have in-home care a few days a week. She’s been doing this for years and they are so hung up on “being independent” they don’t see they are robbing her of half of her life.
    Your neighbors are lucky to have you!

    • Yes, I see this happening among my peers as well. Hopefully it’s a lesson to all of us to be able to let go of our independence when it’s time. I suspect though, that from the inside, it’s hard to know that point in time. Like you, I am struggling to come to terms with my body transitioning into something stiffer and weaker than even a year or so ago, and if I’m struggling with that transition, how will it go when it’s time to let someone else take care of me? On the other hand, I would be fine with someone coming to clean my house on a regular basis right now!

  3. Bill says:

    Beautifully written. I’ve pondered that cycle often. My school sends out an alumni magazine. At the back are announcements. For a few years I’d spot the names of old friends and acquaintances in the section listing marriages. Then they started showing up in the section listing child births. Then the long silence and now I start by looking at the obituaries.

    Living close to the natural world helps me appreciate the amazing circle, but it still hurts when I see the vigorous healthy bodies of people who value independence now deteriorating and sliding toward dependence. I see it happening to people with whom I am very close and I know that it may be my destiny too.

    A good reminder I think to savor and appreciate our strength and health while we have it. And to enjoy and wonder at the natural world.

    Good food for thought this morning.

    • Thanks Bill. I waver between “do not go gently” and being graceful about old age. I don’t know whether to be a red bonneted raging granny or a peaceful elder. Both have their place, and the truth is, such choices are less choice per se, than thrust upon us.

  4. All things are impermanent. Take joy in the smallest things, and remember we are all in this thing together. (A fusion of Buddhist philosophy and Red Green.) You are a good egg.

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