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Mary Jean Rivera shares thoughts on aging, death and dying. We will all have to face those events some day.

Editor's note: West Linn Adult Community Center volunteer Mary Jean Rivera shares thoughts on aging, death and dying.

Brian Doyle is a favorite author of mine. This passage is from one of Doyle's poems or essays.

"We are alone, each and all of us, even as we swim in the ocean of love and grace that is our joyous work here; and we will die alone, leaving our bodies behind at some moment brooding in the future." Further on he says maybe deaths are not an exit, but a door, a hole through which something pours in, the "holiest doors."

One of my neighbors is in hospice, suffering the final stages of esophageal cancer. Several other friends, including a much younger person, are in hospice. No more treatment.

The wives of these men don't know what they are facing now, but I do, as I have been there with my husband. I watched the decline one step at a time. It takes about a year for a man to fail, a little at a time, first with a cane and then just sitting, eating less, doing less. I knew there was no going back.

There are friends who say "pray for" this or that. I pray for what is best for them now. Jesus simply kept living until he died. He had already told them everything that might help them to see the truth about reality. There weren't enough words then or now. It's not about religion. Jesus the Teacher showed us God the Creator, who dwells in us still as Spirit, if only we will open the eyes of our hearts.

"You should be so grateful," says a friend of mine, "because you have this house in the midst of your family and friends." And indeed, I am grateful. I dwell among the trees and watch the birds and bees and the change of seasons, and wonder if the fish are as aware of their environment as I am of mine. Probably they are dismayed at the acidification of the oceans and pollution of lakes and streams, but helpless as I feel, being swept along in the streams of living beings.

Life is very persistent. Today my tree man tells me if he cuts down the unruly maple trees in my yard, they will be back in a season or two, more than ever. If I am still here managing this property, I guess I will cut them down again then. All life is in transition from one form to another, which makes changing bread and wine into the Body of Christ seem a very realistic ritual, a microcosm of reality that we live in. If we eat good living food it will transform into us. If we eat deadness it will be like a poison and kill us eventually. But we will each and all transition.

I wonder how I am supposed to live well in my last years; what I should do now? And I never come up with anything much, except to share some food, to listen to someone's story of happiness or woe, to give away a book or flowers, and to offer hosting services in this wonderful big house I manage just for that purpose now. I write to people who could take some action, to the princes of the church and political world, send birthday, congratulations, and condolence cards. I take photographs of beautiful light on flowers or buildings or landscapes to help me see them a little longer than the moment allows. I pull the weeds, water the rest and make up the beds again.

My life is a collection of days. Now it's a collection of years. Sometimes I just watch TV and have something to eat as I fall back into mindless routines, take 8,000 steps a day, pay the bills, and laugh with others over a cup of coffee.

It's a good life.

I took possession of a garage sale art find recently, that I am calling "The Door to Eternity." It seems dark in the foreground but bright light is ahead, with castles in the mist, and an indistinct figure beckoning. I really like it. It comforts me.

The lunch menu at the West Linn Adult Community Center this week features chicken fajitas, black beans, peppers and onions and pumpkin cookies on Friday, Sept. 20; chicken parmesan with garlic buttered pasta, green beans and cream puffs on Monday, Sept. 23 and pizza and salad on Wednesday, Sept. 25. Cost is $5 per person and lunch is served at noon.

The WLACC is located at 1180 Rosemont Road in West Linn.

Mary Jean Rivera is a volunteer with the West Linn Adult Community Center.


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