Change; the only reason to begin noticing what has always been there. No matter how small the change, how reoccurring, or how definite. When someone notices the shift in their familiarity; then, is the time compliment – or concern – rears its ugly head.
The leaves – an example as fine as any other – are beginning to change from their iridescent Summer green and into the warm smudge of Autumn’s blush. No one has ever mentioned in passing how well the leaves complement the sky during Summer, never mentioning how blissful they look when green. Because green is familiar. Green is expected. And yet, with every passing month as Autumn comes and then, eventually, goes; ‘Don’t you just love how the leaves look this time of year?’ is one of the more common pleasantries exchanged between neighbours and half-strangers. As they greet each other in the street, or when they meet at the end of their driveways retrieving their mail. As if the leaves browning were an open gate at the entrance to a secret garden; inviting the flood of bright eyes and reprised compliments.
Aging seems to be the only exception to the change; it’s as if change and aging were opposites. After reaching a certain point, people – family, friends, acquaintances – seem to have a strange way of showing their notice of change. Or even noticing the change at all. There are less and less compliments, and less and less concern. Arranged lunches and dinners begin to dwindle down from once a week, to once a fortnight and then to once a month. Soon, your dining partner will be too overwhelmed with their own changes: their ever-changing work life, their ever-changing social life. And so, instead of the hour, or two, you would have spent meeting with them in person is exchanged for a thirty-minute phone call once a week. Even then, there are changes in their world that begin to excuse them from even a phone call.
So, as you age you notice your own changes. You notice that you’re beginning to feel more lethargic with every flight of stairs and, before long, you feel uncappable of ever reaching the top. No matter how long it takes you. You notice the ache in your bones, the weariness in your arms as you feel your muscles regressing. You notice how difficult it’s becoming to live without support. You finally allow yourself to consciously notice how the freedom of youth has left you, and you begin to accept the change.
It takes, what feels like an age when in reality is, a number of days for you to organise yourself and plan your future. Soon, you find yourself at a table with each of the chairs occupied; the peals of laughter over long-ago tales thought to be forgotten. You feel settled, safe and noticed as you accept the change, understanding it was needed. And, as soon as you’re comfortable you pick up the telephone and let your family know of the change.
The pattern starts it’s repetition; your daughter, your son, visit you for the first time within days of being made aware of the change. They hadn’t brought the grandchildren on their first visit, though. They would take the time to process and accept the change themselves before pushing their children to notice the change. They say they hadn’t wanted to overwhelm you, having only just moved into the change yourself. You assure them you’re fine, you’re comfortable and that the next time they visit they must bring the grandchildren. They relent with smiles and well-wishes.
Then, the pattern begins and soon the change is accepted by all. One week your daughter, your son and your grandchildren visit you, and the next week you all treat yourselves to an outing; lunch, to a venue with a menu longer than it takes you to eat your meal. The visits, like before, become less frequent and are once again are replaced with a phone call that are filled with a shorter and shorter conversation. Although the visits have become a rarity, you refuse to let go of your fortnightly outing to the restaurant you had visited before. The wait staff had noticed the change, mentioning it only in polite greeting, when you had begun to arrive alone and remain that way throughout the course of your meal. As time went by and circumstance hadn’t changed, dining alone became the expected and if ever you were to be accompanied again it would spark the need of comment.
You accepted change, understanding that change was overwhelming and although you had an unrestricted length of free time to come to terms with new things, those you held close had allotment of changes they needed to accept and understand. They needed time to take them in, you were unlikely to undergo another change as surprising as the last.
Weeks went by with the occasional phone call where you recalled things that happened in the briefest as quickly as you could before settling into the conversation and revelling in their everyday life. You’d smile at the stories of your granddaughter’s panic over the first day of high school and her complaints over the trivial. You’d laugh at the stories of your grandson losing his first tooth and covering the dog in playdoh armour. In these moments, you were able to escape the mundanity and ever so little change in your life, you were happy to see that your family was thriving and you began to hope that something bigger than their busy schedule would bring you together again. Something bigger that would once again restart the pattern.
Another Autumn had come and passed, the leaves changed from full of life into the crippling shades that warned of Winter. The trees bare of leaves, and instead were coated in the finest layer of snow. A change was beginning to make an entrance into your life once again, and soon the people who lived around you noticed and complimented upon it. It, the change, had been hiding under the surface of your skin where the consequences of the unknown were visible: your clothes were looser, your appetite had grown, and it seemed as if you had just a little more energy was usual.
The unknown change soon had begun feeling unnerving and so, with a shaky breath and a timid hand an appointment was made to ensure everything was in working order. This appointment had opened the Pandora’s Box of change; your health was in decline and it was estimated the decline wouldn’t take longer than a few months. The news was rattling; you shook, you cried, you didn’t leave your room for longer than a few minutes at a time. You had refused to continue; your clothes hadn’t changed in days, your hair mattered and your lips dyed red from the unending supply of jelly hidden in the back of your cupboard.
The phone rang after another turn in emotion – just when you thought you were ready to accept the change life had dealt you, a bubble of defiance burst in your throat and a collection of hiccups and tensed muscles plagued you for another hour. Your voice quivered as you picked up the phone, the stream of tears evident in your voice. Your daughter in tears, had been notified of the change that darkened your nightmares, wrought with fear as she hiccupped her way through a phone call that lasted over four hours. By the end of the day you felt as if the Winter freezing your insides had begun to melt and Spring began to blossom; the tears still stained your cheeks, though, a small smile and a shine in your eyes had softened the fear. That moment was where you began to accept the change.
The following weeks passed in a blur and with the onset of the growing threat to your wellbeing it was a decision best made to move into the care of a hospital. Your daughter, and your son arrived at the hospital the day you were relocated. Their faces pulled tight with measured smiles as they walked the halls to you, themselves uncomfortable with the unfamiliarity of the change. That first visit felt unnatural; as if it instead belonged in a terribly scripted soap opera rather than in your life. The conversation stiff, like the connection between the three of you was weaker than yarn. Eggshells were being tiptoed around and with caution, you had made it to the end of the designated visiting hours.
The next visit was easier; the doctor had explained to your children the state of your wellbeing and that it was common to feel out of place when accepting the fate that would be coming soon. The visit after that your grandchildren had come along as well and before long, their stories had taken lead of the conversation and laughter had filled the room. What felt like only minutes after they had arrived, the visiting hours had ended. With held hands, your children promised to visit again tomorrow. And they did. And the day after that, and after that. They continued to visit every single day for the following three months. Every single topic of conversation that seemed to ever be broached was spoken about and never a single moment of silence passed.
Over the months you spent in that bed, by the window, you noticed the deterioration that had taken over your body. Beneath your hospital gown you could see how translucent your skin had become, how frail you felt making the effort to sit up and even walk. It was with silent acceptance that you nodded to your reflection in the window, whispering to no one as you complimented how beautiful the leaves looked as they began to fall. A soft tremor shook your hand as you reached for the pen and paper on the bedside table; you wrote to your children, a small piece of yourself that they could carry with them after you’d left.
The next time your family visited, the doctors had allowed them to stay a little longer. You knew this meant it was time, you had it accepted it days before and had only spent the time in between waiting patiently. You took the hand of your daughter, and the hand your son and held them as tightly as you could. They both, in turn, gently squeezed your hands back. They knew.
The longer your eyes stayed open, gazing at each of your children, it grew harder for you to breathe. With every ounce of effort left in you, you gestured to the envelopes addressed to your children and told them in the bravest whisper to only open them when you were gone. Great rattling breaths echoed quietly from the back of your throat and with your final words you told them you loved them. In your final minutes, you spoke of nothing, you just took your time to look at both children. You felt Winter climb from the pit of your stomach and splinter through your veins. The last thing you felt was the warmth of their hands in yours.
Your children sat in that room with you long after you’d gone; saying nothing, seeing nothing. Slowly they regained their use of their legs and with the quiet promise of coming back again tomorrow they walked out of the room. Tears washed over their cheeks and your letter clutched in their hand they retreated into the quiet depths of grief.
Your son opened your letter long after he made it home, in the black of night when everyone was asleep and no one could hear him break. He sat at the kitchen table with his head in his hands, jaw clenched in an effort to keep himself together. He would go nowhere without that letter on his person.
You daughter opened your letter after your funeral, when everyone returned to their cars and she was left alone in the cemetery. She lay her head against your tombstone, begging to feel your warmth one last time, as your letter lay beside her.
‘Don’t wait for the change to happen, you’ll regret it when it’s over.’