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Lions Roar : January 2019
Then I began drawing the residents. For me, it was a natural way of seeing who they were, of showing what I saw, of letting them speak for themselves, and of letting them show themselves. It brought such richness I even asked permission to go to a nursing home closer to my home to draw the residents there. One of my favorite residents to draw was Suzanne. If the sadness of impermanence can make us depressed, Suzanne was having none of it. She was a wheelchair-bound solo Greek chorus of positive validation, and always had some- thing encouraging to say. The director of nursing told me that Suzanne fully endorsed any new procedure or change in her treatment protocol with an enthusiastic, “Oh, yes!” Every day, Suzanne also made sure to compliment the staff, words expressing astonished praise at all they did for her and those around her. Suzanne often spoke with deep affection about her late husband, whom she described as tall and brilliant, and would say how terribly she missed him. Once she said she had asked him how people could be so cruel and he replied, “Suzanne, I don’t know. But we don’t have to be.” Suzanne would become momentarily sad after talking about him, but recovered, sometimes with a whole- hearted rendition of a favorite hymn in full voice. Later, a friend and I volunteered to do large group draw- ings for the residents about local historic topics of interest to them. After our first drawing session, we asked the group if they wanted us to return. Suzanne, in the front row, replied cheerfully, “Oh, yes!” Then she paused, and said matter-of- factly, “Well, if we’re still here. We die, you know.” The day came when I found her place in the dining room empty. I was sad and, believe it or not, shocked. She didn’t seem to have death inside her. Evelyn, who died at 107, was unafraid of the inevitable. She would say, “I don’t know why He doesn’t come and take me.” Then she’d pause for effect and say, “Maybe He’s waiting for me to improve!” Then she’d roar with laughter. I have read this quote in my Buddhist studies: “Fear is the natural reaction to nearing the truth. It may all come down to fear of death. Or fear of tenderness. Smile at fear, make friends with it. When we look at fear with gentleness, it’s not solid.” Suzanne, Evelyn, and many other frail elderly people seem to know this, without hav- ing been formally taught it. There are no social conventions in charnel grounds and there aren’t many social filters among the elderly. Occa- sionally, I’ve been told off. My mother’s tablemate took an almost instant dislike to me. “Oooohhh, aren’t we lucky to have you here helping us,” she’d say with a nasty, dripping sarcasm as I buttered her bread. In truth, I was feeling a little smug in my self-appointed role as Useful Kind Cheeky Tall Husband LION’S ROAR | JANUARY 2019 72