Everyone should have a person in their life whose default approach to every situation is kindness. I had that person until early last week, and tomorrow I say my final goodbye to her. She was 95, and as someone pointed out to me, we have been saying goodbye to her for at least eight years. A routine surgery followed by a fall and T.I.A. started a slow decline — so slow we barely noticed as we adjusted to the new versions of her.
But I am not here to remember those last eight years. I am thinking of the previous 87. Or, more specifically, of the smaller portion of those years where I knew her.
My most enduring memory of her is of leave taking. She would stand in her doorway — or on the porch if it was warm enough — and wave to us as we drove away. Every time we drove away. It didn’t matter if the time between our visits was less than a day — she watched over our leaving every time. When I was younger, I would get so sad as I watched her figure, framed in the doorway, grow smaller in the distance. As long as I could see her, I felt heavier and heavier until I thought we had to — HAD TO — turn around and go back to her. I just assumed she was lonely when we left, even when her husband was still alive or when she had more people still visiting after us.
I see it differently now. We have been going through old photographs to put together one of those barely-adequate displays of someone’s life. I realized that in every photograph where one of her children is in the picture, she is looking at the child, not the photographer. And she looks serene as the Buddha in each one. This was her gift to us, and although it sounds like not much, it was more than most people can offer. Her gift was watching, with love and attention. That is why she always waved us out when we visited. Her attention belonged to us, for as long as we were with her, even if ours was elsewhere. And her attention was always kind.
In my work, I strive daily to reproduce this kind of attention for every client. I try to model and teach it to my students. It is a struggle sometimes, but when I know I have it working, I feel a peace that can’t be explained. How wonderful to think that most of her life was built on that kind of peace.