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making a difference

by Judy
June 7, 2015

Recently I read Dr. Oliver Sack’s autobiography called “On the Move.” I had never actually read any of his previous books although I knew about them. It still amazes me how close we can feel to another individual who we have never met and yet through their words and heartfelt vulnerability, they become part of our lives. They become our “friends.” Also this is a doctor of neurology who managed to connect very deeply with his patients out of his curiosity and very human care. And he shared his findings, through his writings, with the whole world - not just the medical field, which actually was not particularly enamored with him at the time. He worked outside the conventional mode.

I was reflecting upon this as a writer myself on this blog – someone who is committed to writing every two weeks no matter what and also who is helping to care for her elderly mom. Writing has become essential to my own well-being, but in addition, I am becoming more aware of those who are reading me. Over time there are certain people who respond to our essays (Andrea’s and mine) and that has grown. I feel connected to people who I have never personally met and still, in many ways, I also write for an unknown “field.” This gives me an added impetus to keep “putting out” even when, for example, I often have no idea what to write about, especially when it's been more difficult. This was the case this time as I neared my “publishing” date.

For those who have never read my essays before, I have been, for the past six years, on a journey with my mom who recently turned 99 years old and whose life radically changed six years ago when she went into hospital with a restricted aortic valve. From that time onward, she stopped living an independent life to the point of having a stroke three years ago and basically being bed-bound. It has been a journey of love; intimacy; of coming closer to my mom than I ever could have imagined and at the same time needing to continually let go of who she was; responding to her changes and consequently changing myself. It’s also been very intense at times – going through procedures, hospital stays and endless decisions to be made. It’s not such a unique story and yet everyone’s story is different.

Since my last essay, “Gratitude for the Status Quo,” my mom caught a cold. Now for a 99 year old who is already very weak, that is no small thing. It’s been two weeks since she has had this cold – we have given her antibiotics but there is no change for the better. She is weak, doesn’t want to drink or eat much at all and having a difficult time emotionally and mentally. It’s been hard – hard on her, me and Pat, her loyal Aide.

Yesterday was the low point of these days. Personally I went through a gamut of emotions – depressed, upset, unclear what to do and literally praying when I went to bed that my mom would find some peace.

The next day when I woke up, I decided to spend every minute I could by her side. I talked with her, stroked her, told her stories and encouraged her to eat. Not necessarily for this reason, but nonetheless she seemed more relaxed, ate more and her cough was less constricted. Okay, I thought, it’s only one day, but I felt a lot of gratitude. It was gratitude for having even that one day when there was some light and relief. I also felt that although I will never totally know what the effect has been on my mom to have me caring for her, that it has made a difference. And even when it’s difficult, it has made a difference. We really do make a difference when we care.

And then I thought of dear Dr. Oliver Sacks who has made a huge difference, not just with his patients, but with so many people. And even nearing the end of his life, as he recently discovered he has terminal cancer and very little time left, he wrote such a moving essay in the New York Times in February.  At the end of the article he speaks about the passing of his generation. He says:

“ …They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate — the genetic and neural fate — of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death. I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers. Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.

What more can one say after reading this but express enormous gratitude for such nobility of heart and soul. The spirit lifts. Thank you Dr. Sacks.

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