My paternal grandfather, Gene Ehri, died in May. In his last few years, he was afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease. After his wife passed away in 2010, Gene came to live with my parents in their home in a southern Arizona border town. During that period, those of us who loved Gene watched as his personality changed and receded. He was often warm and loving, but his quirks became magnified, and new ones emerged. His memory faded and eventually so did his balance and motor skills; head injuries caused by a series of falls hastened his final decline.
When I went to visit Gene in what turned out to be the last week of his life, he seemed barely there, a beautiful and loving soul imprisoned in a failing body and a brambled brain which permitted only fleeting glimpses of the mind and the man we knew.
Our corporeal containers eventually fail us all, and anyone who has ever accompanied a loved one through a struggle with dementia, stroke, or other debilitating disease has shared my experience of seeking not only “that of God” within a fading elder or friend, but also “that of them.” We never doubt for a second that somewhere within—trapped and tired, but indomitable—is the spirit and the mind of the one we loved. Does our experience of this pathway of loss support a belief in the immanence of the Divine Spirit? For me, it does. I was certain that Gene, in his dying days, was “still in there,” though his body betrayed little sign of that. Why was I so certain? It’s hard to say—certitude sometimes justifies itself—but if I believe that there is that of God in every person and that we are meant to answer to it, how can I help but believe that the Holy Spirit and the human spirit are intricately entwined? Conversely, the knowing that our loved one is there, even when out of reach, is the same mechanism as belief in the eternal, though we cannot measure its pulse except through its manifestation in us: the otherwise inexplicable power of love. In the end, our humanity is as undying as that spirit which pervades all.
In this issue’s focus on aging, we explore our human responses, as Friends, to the march of time, its toll on human bodies and communities, and its lessons for us. Caroline Mather Brown’s story (“The Last Few Miles,” p. 6) speaks particularly to my condition, an eloquent and honest narrative of care. In “Circles of Crones” (p. 14), author Bette Rainbow Hoover writes of reclaiming a slur and celebrating the wisdom and power of elder women. And in “The Friend Is Not Heard” (p. 10), Louis Cox lifts up the problems faced by people with hearing loss and suggests ways that we can make our communities of worship less challenging for these Friends.
On the topic of accessibility, I want to note that while most of the comments we received from our readers about our color redesign of the magazine were celebratory, several subscribers noted that they had difficulty with the legibility of text over colored backgrounds, especially those with transitions in color. We are making adjustments to improve the legibility of our articles, and we are grateful for the feedback from our engaged readership as we continue to evolve Friends Journal to better communicate Quaker experience, in order to connect and deepen spiritual lives.
Yours in peace,