One can hear a “squeak, shuffle, squeak shuffle” as you walk down the hall. The little old ladies are pushing their walkers and their tennis shoes shuffle as their walkers wheels squeak.
When it is time for dinner they come from their little rooms; that hold their pared down lives, from a house to a room, they have decided what is most important to keep. They come from the activities room where they play bingo and listen to volunteers play piano, now the activity of their lives. As they shuffle along they greet each other one by one lining up to enter their dining room. Many of them are helped to their chairs and others can still seat themselves. There is a quiet hush as the nun fumbles with the microphone and everyone bows their heads and folds their hands. The nun recites “Holy Mary Mother of God” and in unison they all pray “Pray for us sinners” yet before they are finished with last syllable she has begun the next line. She proceeds in this oddly speedy fashion through at least 10 prayers and then blesses the food. Her speed does not match the pace of the guests but they hang in there with every word.
They talk and laugh. They cry silent tears and share their stories. They are a community now together. They are family to one another living out the end of their lives. They walk down the halls towards the doors, towards the light. The end is not so far you see and they face it every time another “friend passes on to heaven” – that’s what the sign says that hangs on the dining room door in honor of one of the family that has just died within the home. They wait, they wonder, they fear, they live, they love one another, they are family in a different place out of time and our normal pace of life. They think more deeply now, they laugh more fully, they live knowing the end looms at the end of that hallway where the light shines in and they walk towards it.
“They are good to me and I am no longer isolated but I see too much death here.” She told me with a saddened look in her eyes. “You have wanted heaven for years now your closer to it.” I replied. “Yes, my dear, but I am afraid of the unknown.” The door closes slightly behind me and she sits in her recliner looking out the window. And so I pray for her and visit her and hug her and think of her often but I am able to walk without a shuffle and a squeak to open the doors at the end of that long hall and leave. I am able to get in my car and drive home to my precious family and hug them even tighter.
Pray for them, visit them and love them for they are our family. They are us in 40, 50 or even 60 years and we will fear as well and need that visitor, that hug, that joy and energy from the outside to be brought into those long and squeaky halls.