And the toilet, and the drawers, and…..everywhere.
What is this, some sick joke? Sadly, no. not at all. This is and has been, in fact, one of my most scarring and beautiful life experiences.
This holiday season, I found myself decking the halls with bleach, pine sol, water, gagging, and internal screams because my 85 year old grandmother had had the accident of all accidents when somehow (I really can’t figure out, logically, how this could have happened), poop ended up all over my uncle’s overly white bathroom.
As I walked into this bathroom, I could tell that a lot of it had been cleaned up, mostly because you could tell parts were wiped off, but streaky – not clean. My grandmother’s attempts to clean this up herself were definitely noticed (for the record, she probably genuinely thought she had cleaned it up), but very much unsuccessful since she can hardly even bend over. When I saw this, my first thought was to ignore – RUN FOR THE HILLS…or mountains…it’s the valley, my second thought was to somehow clean it up without letting her know before my uncle got home so he wouldn’t be angry (got a bit of a temper on that one, big heart, big reactions).
So like the stealthy ninjas that my sister, my cousin, and I are, we slowly grabbed wet paper towel after wet paper towel, placed them over the products of this incident and begun to clean through drop in visits. But a few paper towels and a few minutes in between would not do it. Thankfully, Tita decided that she wanted to sit out in the sun for a while. As she stepped out with my sister, I, as a super grown up adult woman, did what any other super grown up adult woman would do – I called my mom in a panic. I asked her how I could possibly clean this up, and what did I get? “Find some gloves and some cleaning supplies.” And so, my cousin and I went out on a scavenger hunt to find something to scrub with, cleaning supplies, and a mop.
To my great fortune….they found the gloves when I was about 90% done with cleaning everything up. But we found pine sol, a plastic broom, and bleach under the sink. To further my fortune, my cousin cant even think about anything remotely gross without almost throwing up and needing to catch a breather – let alone be in its presence, so he got to be my supplier as I stayed locked in a smelly bathroom, holding my breath, wiping up poop for two hours. Then, scrubbing and cleaning with pine sol and finally, bleaching everything.
Despite my extreme disgust, all I thought about was finishing unnoticed, and before my uncle came home. I also may have imagined God looking down upon me saying “Well, you said you wanted to be a mom someday, right? LOL here you go, sucka!” – but that’s not really true and beside the point. For a while, I saw hiding my grandma’s accident as a way for me to help maintain her dignity, to make her believe that she did it on her own despite having a ton of health issues that I lose track of, some pretty bad osteoporosis, and being depressed after losing a son this month.
But as I began to think back on this experience where we all do out best thinking (the shower, of course), I didn’t see a loss of dignity in my grandma’s incident, but I believe I acted based on the unalienable dignity that she already possesses through her mere being. I saw that dignity shine through our family ninja skills. I saw her dignity in the way that my mother brought her to our house and then took her into the bathroom to bathe her, like she used to her when she was a child, and as she did to me as well. I see her dignity in the way that she laughs and the way that she loves. In the way that she taught me to love God and honor my worth.
I see my grandmother, and I see the Tita that hurled shoes at people who made her upset, the grandma who gave my mom all of her savings for a quinceanera I didn’t want, the goof that used to laugh hysterically at the “ugly monsters” in the scary movies because she knew that I was terrified, the grandma who would overfeed me but never ate anything herself, the woman who started and ran her own store without being able to read or having ever gone to school.
And as my grandmother stops being the woman that does everything for us, she is unknowingly doing more than she could ever imagine for my character.
Sitting in a pooped up restroom for two hours, holding my breath, was more than humbling. I can’t stand the idea or thought of anything of the sort anymore, but all I thought about as I gagged and internally screamed, was the woman sitting outside catching some vitamin D, and the love she has shared with me, as well as the extraordinary mother she gave me. Because my grandmother’s dignity has not come from her productivity (sorry Marx).
I don’t see who she is for what she can do for me, although I’m surprised at how much that grows as I learn to serve her with a patient heart and humbled hands. But today, I live in a world where my grandmother may someday be able to end her life in order to ease our “burden.”
One’s worth is often seen in how a person is able to provide for themselves and others. However, I firmly believe that we can all offer each other something invaluable, no matter where we are at in life. Yet, we still have “Death with Dignity.” Quite contradictory to this movement’s meaning, dignity means “the state or quality of being worthy of honor or respect.”
When someone loses or believes that they will soon lose what the world sees as worthy of honor or respect, we may find it “compassionate” to allow someone to end their life to avoid said loss. But as we devalue dependent lives, we fail to see their great value and we lose sight of true compassion (to suffer with) and give way to its imposter (to rid oneself of the suffering).
Our society can be judged based on how we respond to our most vulnerable members and their fears. True care for our communities devotes even more attention to members facing vulnerability in their life. So that when people are lead to believe in a deprecation in their life value, we provide them with the most love and assistance we possibly can to reassure them of their inherent worth – because we all deserve to age in a society that sees our fears, our cares, our needs, and our hearts with compassion that is rooted in true love and respect. Genuine support can and should be offered until our final breath, removing the fear of burden to restore dignity- not removing the possibility of a “burden” but what and who we see as a burden.
When the world speaks of dignity. something essential is missed. We do not stand on our own merit. Every human person possesses a God-given dignity through creation.
When we speak of compassion, we overlook something that, quite literally, means to suffer with someone. True compassion alleviates suffering while standing in solidarity with those who suffer. It does not allow for someone to abandon ship in order to avoid burden or serve those who may not be as inclined to clean a bathroom, or more. True compassion aids the vulnerable with their own burdens instead of seeing those subject to suffering as the problem.
If I didn’t have to serve my grandmother as she grows old, despite the fact that she may never know it, I would not be the person I am today. Her efforts to clean up after herself unnoticed and her constant laughter and joy show me the strength and beauty that can still accompany pain and suffering.
While my reflection of my unfortunate afternoon is very much tied into my own personal beliefs, I ask that you try to see this for what it is to me: a plea for life, a plea for learning from each other, and for serving each other.
The choices we make together now will decide what kind of care and compassion this society is built upon for future generations. With authentic love and support, we can create a world in which love is stronger than death. Where we see more in each other than productivity and utility.
For in Him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:16-17)