I’ve been spending time with my 96 year old cousin the last few weeks. She’s in home hospice, stable. When you ask her how she’s doing, she’ll tell you she’s the same as she was yesterday and the same as she’ll be tomorrow.
I have no idea how to hold space for someone who’s slowly dying.
Her friends have done this before. One woman brings a bottle of my cousin’s favorite nail polish—OPI, Don’t Toy With Me—and gives her a manicure. They hold her hands, arrange her pillows, rub her back when she itches. One couple brings a strawberry milkshake, putting in a mug so it’s not too cold for her to hold. Almost everyone brings Chinese food.
I bring my knitting, to have something to do with my hands. I ask her about growing up in New York, about the time she spent in Germany working for the Department of the Army. She doesn’t have much energy to talk though, and has trouble hearing my questions. Mostly, I sit and knit.
She’s outlived the rest of her family. It’s just my mom, my mom’s sister, and their kids. When I visit, she proudly introduces me to everyone in the room as her cousin. It’s what keeps me coming back, despite how surprisingly difficult I’ve found visiting with her to be. I don’t want to become familiar with the indignities of old age, don’t want to learn how to talk to someone who may live another week or another month or another year. Not yet.
I sit with her until she falls asleep, then wrap up my knitting and drive home.