What we long for from elders...
After my grandmother died when I was 12, questions have come up that I wish I could still ask her and still come to this day. The questions, of course, didn’t arrive soon enough for me to ask them but with them was a longing to know “what was it like when…”, “what were the moments that you felt…” and any questions that would give some kind of meaning to their lives, or meaning to mine.
I kick myself wishing my little self would have thought of those questions sooner, but it wasn’t something that was on my radar. I didn’t grow up listening to stories around a campfire, and the only legends I heard were rumors too crass for young ones that my teen cousins should have kept to themselves.
I recently turned 28 and have moved in with Marie, a dying elder friend from the Syracuse Peace community, to provide her home care and company. I find myself now with many questions for an older generation as I, and all the people who have known her in her lifetime, face her coming death. I also sense that this is a moment of divine design - in this particular moment in my life I am be open and free and not too long ago I was praying for whatever was coming next to be full of meaning. And prayer, I know it can be non-linear and things you prayed for in a past lifetime show up and you know you asked for it... and sometimes, there is a knock on your door with an answer as soon as you open your eyes.
And I'm not just "working" for Marie, I am in service to her community, who are mostly elders. I feel a certain pride and also a humbling that my tasks is to clean, take out the trash, wake in the middle of night if needed. I have found myself with nothing to complain about even with tiring nights and fewer moments to myself and with everything to be grateful for. Community, story, spirit, ritual, song, a meaningful task... I would even call it a purpose.
I find myself overwhelmed with gratitude for this opportunity to bear witness to this particular woman’s death because of her spiritual path and my longing for lineage and sisterhood among women who recognize themselves as witches. I also I see myself in her alters scattered around her house and volumes of personal journals and countless writing projects that she wants to finish before she goes.. in the plants with thorns and inspirational quotes pinned on the wall by her bedside and the candles waiting in every corner ready to ignite right before the circle is cast.
I have only gotten to know this woman as an acquaintance over the past few years, and only twice did I ever visit her for tea (upon her invitation) but I remember them as moments where I felt home. Belonging. It is a knowing that here is someone who came before me that has given something to the world just by means of her living that I am in some way supposed to receive. And I haven’t only felt this with her, but with a few elders who have become threads woven into my life. My mentors and beloved elders are the ones who I go to in existential crisis and with whom I, even if its via text, can feel the universal cradle of care when they ping me back with a poem that makes me cry, or if they are tech savvy, a funny gif. (If you don’t know what that is, ask a young person in your life!)
As I am out in the world collecting my patches for the quilt of my life, my elders are the ones I bring the fabric back to and on their dining room tables, teach me their favorite stitches. And now that I am an adult, I feel less like they have adopted me, and I have instead, adopted them.
On Christmas Eve, Marie was in the hospital and I went to her in the morning prepared with questions. Once I started asking, she started talking and I knew that this was a moment of meaning. Tears swelled in me, in her, and it wasn’t sadness for her condition but an overwhelming gratitude to be able to hear her story, her thinking, her experiences, the way she makes meaning of her life - and of her dying. To finally sit at the feet of someone who could tell an authentic story, not out of pride, but for the sake of meaning and because it meant something to someone else, to me… a young woman eager to hear a life story. As a young adult in America, not raised on religion, this was a gift of divine guidance to hear how an elder woman left the Catholic Church and found her way with spirit, the divine, and in the embrace of the Goddesses.
So here I am in my hometown, bringing my joy for life, my enthusiasm for a clean kitchen, vacuumed carpets, mornings filled with song, and the story that comes with the patchwork of someone else's life. A rite of passage for the both of us. And even with my gratitude, I feel a bit late and wishing I had more time with this one as I fall in love with her more each day. And just like a love I know will leave me sooner rather than later, I still let myself go, sinking into the precious moments knowing that I won’t regret my broken heart.
So, young people - find your elders. And elders, offer us tea and a story… give us something to do for you. We could learn a lot about what it means to be in service and what it means to fall in love, with you and life, even in the midst of your dying. It is needed in these times when nuclear families are no longer the norm and many of us long for a village. And a village isn’t a village without children and elders, so make yourself known. As Stephen Jenkinson once said, “In a troubled time, the willingness to proceed like you’re needed is a radical act”.
You are needed, dear ones. Don’t let us youngers forget it.