“Love is life…and if you miss love, you miss life.” (Leo Buscaglia)
Love is what makes my life worth living. The fact that I am loved by my family and friends, and that I have family and friends to share my love with, are the cornerstones of my existence. Ultimately, all that I have, all that I do, all that I aspire to, is related to the idea that there is love in my life. Love that I have for myself, love for those around me, and the love that I get back from all of them. Without that two-way flow of love, in and out of my spirit, my life would become nothing more than a chemical reaction happening within my body. It would meet the scientific definition of life, but not my definition of truly living.
One of the saddest things I have witnessed in the last decade was the decline and demise of my mother. She passed away two years ago this month, but in many ways the value of her life had died years before.
She did not lead an easy life. She was born at the dawning of the Great Depression, her teen years were dominated by World War II. Her family endured poverty and hardship including rationing of supplies. At an age that would be considered scandalously young by today’s standards, she married my father. He was 9 years older than her – another fact that would have raised many eyebrows today. They went on to have four children together, of which I am the youngest. They stayed together through their own difficult times. They had to move often to continue to provide a safe environment for their family. Finally, in the middle of the 1960s they could afford to buy their own home. In less than 2 years, though, my dad had passed away.
The remainder of my mother’s life is a study in depression. Although she wasn’t diagnosed with it until many years later, the seeds and symptoms of depression were present throughout those years. Over time she became more and more bitter with the world. That bitterness came out in all of her relationships. As the years passed she managed to alienate most of her family and friends.
In the last years of her life she lived in a nursing home. Her body was starting to give out, but her spirit had begun to give up sooner. It wasn’t that people didn’t love her, it was that she didn’t seem to know how to let that love in. Her bitterness had erected an insurmountable wall around her heart. Nothing got in, and nothing got out.
Many were the times that my family tried hard to bring a smile to her. We would visit and try to bring her things that would bring her joy. Perhaps the most frustrating for me was the year that my wife and I hit on the idea of buying and loading an electronic picture frame for her. I had scanned most of her photo collection and had them on disk. I bought the largest screen I could and loaded it with a few hundred pictures. The idea was that every time I visited, I would replace the pictures on the frame with a new set. Some would be from years past, others from things that were happening in my family’s life in the present.
We were excited about the gift. We were sure it would be a major hit with her. We set it up near her bed, showed her how to turn it on and watch the pictures. The next few visits we did, indeed, update the frame. But we noticed her enthusiasm for it wasn’t there. Sometime later, she told me over the phone that she didn’t like the frame. All it did was show the same pictures over and over again. There were hundreds of pictures, but she’d seen them all and didn’t like them. And another palette of bricks was added to the wall around her heart.
The last time I saw my mother alive she was in the hospital. She’d had some problems, and there was concern that she was near the end. But when I saw her that day she was on the mend, things were looking up for her. My children and I had all planned to see her the day she died, but our visit was scheduled for the afternoon, and she passed at lunch time.
The thing that made me the saddest in the whole experience of watching my mother die was that she died alone. I don’t mean that she was the only person in the room – that is true, but not the important point. She died alone and lonely. When we were emptying her room after she died, there was some evidence that she might have been trying to take down that wall. I think, though, that she got to a place of hopelessness where she just didn’t know where to begin.
As I sit here today as a relatively-healthy 52 year old, surrounded by close family and friends, I am confident that I will not allow myself to be in that same circumstance, but I don’t really know what twists and turns are in my future. I don’t plan on buying any bricks, and although I can be surly at times, I think that quite a lot of love flows forth from me to others, and I KNOW that I feel that love in return.
Much is said about the notion of “quality of life” for the elderly, or those who have had accidents or illness. Doctors talk about it in terms of their ability to be mobile, to have clear thought, to be active and the like. But I think the most important quality of life is love. As long as I have love in my life, as long as that love is flowing in and out of my spirit, then the quality of my life will transcend whatever is going on with my body.
Love most definitely IS life. I have no intention of missing that love, or missing out on my life.