The long driveway was dark unlike the brightness I remember in my youth, Christmas always brightened the path with deer that lit the front lawn. The bushes of the past were well groomed and healthy. Now they grew high along the sides of the brick house. Before the pool was lit with a small spotlight. Now vines wrap around the edges of the empty and dark. Each night in my youth the porch sconce was always on, to let people know they were welcome. It was off now leaves crunched under our feet as we approached the door. The old screen shook as we pulled it open. The door handle jiggled, the only thing that seemed familiar. The glow of the television was the only light that illuminated the room. She lay in the recliner with a light blanket covering her legs. I shivered as I placed my suitcase in the hallway.

Each time I return it is a little less familiar. When I was little the house was full of life, many people and lots of food. Not so many come around anymore. The pantry is sparse, and the fridge only holds the essentials. The counters that once were covered with tins and buckets of Christmas cookies now are wiped clean and empty of excess. Cooking and eating were an art form for her. The biggest complaint was having been full before she was “done eatin’.” The smells of fried chicken, collard greens and biscuits no longer fill the air. Christmas ham and turkey no longer are cooked on Christmas day.

She sleeps a lot unlike the woman of the past who never sat still. She weeded gardens, grew vegetables, nurtured the animals and was always ready for an adventure in the woods at any moment. Christmas was lived and lived well. The entire house had decorations, every crook, and corner. Now there is one tree with no ornaments.

She is quick to awaken and stand to give out hugs. Her gait is unsteady as she reaches for an arm to help steady her step, not the same as when she could take you down with one sideways glare or a pinch of the arm. She apologizes for not being able to move quickly. She says she was going to cook today, but she just didn’t feel like it.

It is heartbreaking to see family members age. It is hard to listen to what if’s, or regrets of should have’s, apologies for not being able to do what was always done. Seeing their bodies defy what it is they would rather be doing; riding in the woods looking at leaves and wildlife or growing a garden of many vegetables that would last through winter. The slow movements or forgotten tasks slow the person down to a pace they never knew in their past.

Life is lived, loved and learned over the years. Sitting with someone who is slowing down can be a rewarding life lesson; learning about past loves and loves lost, life not lived to the fullest or lived beyond anything they could imagine, and the lessons learned over the seasons of change and evolution of those seasons.

Learn from them. Learn to embrace where we are in this portion of life, enjoy where we are, what we have and cradle those we love. Live life to the fullest each day, not getting caught up on the small things that cause us to be anxious for no reason. Don’t let the thief steal your joy.

Start to live.

Seek to love.

Strive to learn.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full,” (John 10:10).