I realized today that the last three, three and a half, years have been a test of everything the Old Woman ever taught me.
It started the spring of 2009 with a stroke that started the demise. She was never a hearty woman to begin with, so illness took a heavy toll. She tried to hide what she was losing. She had a script of polite questions she could ask anyone, and they might be fooled into thinking she was holding up her end of the conversation. But, she wasn't.
She taught me to be generous. She taught me to use my talents to contribute. So, every few weeks, I'd take a couple days off work to travel to her home and cook meals that could be frozen and easily heated up with a bit of salad in a bag on the side. I'm sure the Old People got tired of spaghetti sauce and meatloaf.
She taught me that patience is a virtue. She taught me that I should try to be kind to those who suffer. So, I would pull out old photo albums to keep her telling me stories of her childhood while I worked. I asked the same questions over and over again. I answered the same questions over and over again. When she was confused, I lowered my voice. I reminded myself to not take the sharpness personally.
She taught me that I should notice the world around me. So, I cherished those moments when she seemed herself. When she recognized an old photo, or when she told a joke, or made sharp observations.
She taught me that death isn't something to fear. I've been fearing her death for years now. Every visit, I cried driving away, wondering if that would be the last kiss or embrace. But, I also knew that she would not have wanted to continue living in the fog and pain she was in, at the end. I imagine it was a relief when her body finally caught up to her mind.
She taught me to stand up straight. I admit, I spent the day she died on my couch, crying my eyes out. But, the next day, I was back at work, serving my community just like she taught me I should.
I haven't finished being sad. I haven't really stopped crying. And, at this point, I don't really want to anyway. But, next spring, when her mountain is in full bloom, I'll know that her ashes are part of their beauty, and I'll be comforted.