I went to see Up in theaters with my favorite uncle in Trinidad. We didn’t stay past the opening sequence of Carl and Ellie’s lifetime together. My Uncle had just recently laid his late wife to rest and the sequence of two young people falling in love, growing up and growing old together while weathering all the joys and challenges of sharing a life together overwhelmed him.
It wasn’t just that his late wife had passed away, but the journey there: the slow diminishing of her to multiple sclerosis, MS, had made the farewell a multi-year process of paradoxical inevitability and futile hope for just one more day even up until his final minutes when he was trying desperately with oxygen tanks and prayers to keep her alive and finally had to relent and let her go.
My uncle has been my hero for the dedication, discipline, and loyalty he displayed to his wife. Thankfully, he’s a man of means, and was able to hire nurses to care for her at home and keep her comfortable, but he also rearranged his life to care for her himself. He knew she didn’t like the nurses doing “everything” and would take her to the bathroom and bathe her himself when she lost her mobility. He would be her sole and primary caregiver on evenings when the nurses went home- for three years he could not leave the house after 6 PM until the nurses returned the next day at 8 AM.
He would spend hours having conversations with her even after she lost her ability to speak, slowly and patiently spelling out words one letter at a time with an alphabet sheet and writing them out on legal pads. As of my last visit to his house, he still has those legal pads in his office with all the messages he ever took that time to patiently spell out from her.
Lately though, I’ve been thinking of my aunt. Over the course of three years she went from the dynamo of energy and humor I still treasure memories of, to easily exhausted and incapable of walking without support, to completely incapacitated, unable to speak or even swallow her own saliva safely. It’s an unfortunately unsung courage in my telling of this story of how she could smile even up to the very last time I saw her. It’s not easy to understand until you’re the one needing that love and support how difficult it is to let yourself be loved like that.
I know she was grateful for it all, and that she passed away knowing my uncle loved her, and I have the smallest sense of how difficult it is to allow oneself to be loved in such a way that you’re having someone else wait on you, but in so doing she allowed my uncle to love her, and live out that love in a way that he has no regrets save for not having more time to show that love for her.
In the end, this example from two people I love keeps teaching me lessons: that there is as much challenge in being loved as there is in loving, but that there is so much good to be found and accomplished in letting yourself love and letting yourself be loved. Thanks, Aunty Rena.