If there is any phrase that I say repeatedly, it is “Life is all about relationships.” I believe that, believe it to my core. I have found that to be true so many times in both my personal and professional lives. The people who matter to us, our family and our friends who become family, give life its fullness and richness. Without them, life would be filled with emptiness. In my professional life, it is also relationships that matter. Building connections with elders, staff and colleagues not only make work more meaningful, they make everything purposeful and possible.
The power of this simple statement has so come home to me in recent weeks. I stood at my cousin Susie’s bedside in the hospital when she asked me “Who is going to come to my funeral?” and she followed that with the heartbreaking truth “I have pushed so many people away.”
Sorting through her home, her personal possessions has absorbed a couple of weekends for my husband and me recently. Tasked with being her power of attorney, and now her executor, I have embarked on a kind of archaeological dig, sorting through all that is left behind. And it has struck me, sometimes with real emotional force, that her isolation, for years and intensified by COVID, was truly tragic.
While she had retained some friends, her relationships with her children were strained and distant. Her closest family members, both by relationship and geography, had no connection despite wanting one. Her work life had ended and her world did not go much further than the walls of her house. Even calling her on the phone was difficult as she would let her voicemail fill and never empty it. Email was the only option and even that yielded an unpredictable response.
I make no judgment about the choices she made or the life she chose to lead. I make no judgment about how she lived her life and the walls she built, high and wide, around herself. But my heart aches at the thought of how alone she was, in life as in death, and the tragedy of that. Bright, creative, articulate, educated, sophisticated, beautiful—she was all of those things. But overly sensitive, unforgiving, excruciatingly insecure, anxious, fearful—she was all of those things as well.
There are lessons in everything I believe. My lesson from Susie’s life is to remember that relationships are what matter most, that anger and upset can most often be resolved, that life is far too short and that forgiving and embracing are far better than anger and distance. May her memory be a reminder as well as a blessing.