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Lions Roar : January 2019
Helper. It’s possible she saw right through me and shoved my halo off. The phenomenal world is your guru. I was getting a little too comfortable at the charnel grounds. Mom too became unconstrained in expressing the opinions she held strongly her whole life. She despised my idol Diana, the Princess of Wales, and would shut down any conversation involv- ing her. She stated with loud ferocity more than once during the 2015 election in Canada, “I know who I’m not voting for.” But she never spoke critically of me anymore (at least not to my face). After a few years I felt the urge to make change in the broken long-term care system, to meet this world halfway and see what I could contribute. I joined the board of a nonprofit home. Unlike boards of financial institutions or children’s hospitals, it’s far from sexy to sit on a nonprofit nursing home board. Governance volunteers are usually members of religious orders or family members longing to give back, and political influence is scarce. Being on this board, I see—and learn—patience and perse- verance, because a better situation for the elderly likely won’t come from the “system,” despite our best lobbying. We’ve had differing opinions, but I’ve always witnessed tender hearts among the members who keenly feel for the elderly and their overworked and underpaid care staff. I once saw our chair- person sob during a public address at the annual general meet- ing after mentioning his wife had died in the nursing home three years before. The audience quietly mourned with him. During the final weeks of Mom’s life, each day I entered the nursing home it felt to me like walking straight into a fiery oven of inescapable, profound sadness. My mother was dying. In pain. We had a few poignant conversations during that final time. Writhing in pain, she told me haltingly that she knew what was going on. I asked her if she wanted to talk about it. She shook her head, a determined “no.” After a grating breath, she said, with effort among several pauses, “I know you love me...I don’t know why you do...but it’s...wonderful.” I hated seeing my mother dead. When I walked in the room that last morning, after five years of visiting, I burst into reckless, uncontrollable sobs that came from a place deep, deep in my belly, a place I hadn’t known was there. Yet mere days later, her death simply felt right. Nothing wrong. I have often thought that children are a connection to basic goodness. So too are the frail and elderly. Many are no longer afraid to be who they are, be it sad, rude, in pain, or terrified. I gained a humanity I didn’t have before visiting nursing homes, and it was meditation that helped me expose this humanity and let it be there with me in my daily experience. Fearless warriors live in nursing homes. And they deserve to be seen. ♦ Susan MacLeod is a Nova Scotian artist working on a humorous graphic memoir. You can follow her on Instagram: @humans_of_saint_vincents. Oh Guilty LION’S ROAR | JANUARY 2019 73