When we first moved into our new retirement condos, one in St. George nearly 16 years ago, and one in Salt Lake 12 years ago, new retirees were generally healthy, happy to be rid of their big homes and yards, and watch someone else cut the grass and clean up the leaves. Out of 120 condo units in our Salt Lake community, the latest count is 45 deaths in 12 years. Death, of course, can come at any age but, to old people, death is a reality, a looming companion, an exit from the trials and tribulations of mortality.
When new retirees move to a new retirement condo area, they are usually in their late 50s or 60s, a few older retirees may be in their 70s. Most are still physically active and mentally alert, looking forward to golf, leisure, cruise and travel opportunities, and community service activities. Release from the long years of toil of demanding jobs and the never-ending labors and challenges of raising families is a welcome and wonderful reality. I have never heard one person ever, ever say that they missed the big home and the fine neighborhood they left behind. Certainly, the doorposts where the children's height was measured, the memories of family gatherings, of children leaving the nest one-by-one, of first dates and then graduations and marriages all linger. But these memories, forever haunting us, become like ships passing in the night. We loved what we had, we remember every moment and every event, but now our lives have changed and we relish the new-found freedoms and opportunities.
Learning to cope with the reality of death of those around us, of someone across or down the street, someone up the hill, of someone who was healthy yesterday or last week and who came home from the doctor's office from a routine checkup with stage IV pancreatic cancer or Lou Gehrig's disease or lymphoma, as several of our neighbors have experienced, becomes a part of daily life. As illnesses become more advanced, some look forward to the release of earthly bonds, to be free of pain and suffering, to free those around them from the burdens of caregiving and constant worry and concern.
We may have thought all of our lives that we would find it difficult to confront the stark reality of dying. Somehow, though, people learn quickly as they confront the transformative impact of sudden or lingering illnesses. We learn that it is not the length of life that matters, but the wonders of life that permeate our daily existence that are most meaningful, even through tears and pain. We gradually, or even quickly, confront the transition that pervades our daily lives as we begin to lose our abilities to function, to think, to interact with others. We miss doing what we did all of our lives. We wish we could go walk by the river, jog down the trails, or even walk down the street to get the mail. We wish we could still vacuum the floors, cook the meals. We wish we could hear clearly, that the pain in our backs and legs and bodies would diminish so we could get through the day.
But, somehow, we survive until it is time to go. We survive because we never give up hope. We never stop praying. We never stop having compassion for our friends and neighbors whose time to leave has come, who are going through trials far worse and more serious than ours. We never stop marveling at the sunset, at the sunrise, at the new pink rose blooming by our doorstep. We never lose the memories of our childhood, of our families, of those moments we can go to in our minds and dwell there for a few moments of quiet peace in the dark of night or the noon of day to find a sacred sanctuary. We add up the blessings each day, thankful that, if we are not better, we at least are no worse. We are thankful for the courage, love, and compassion that old and sick people have for each other and for one another in our neighborhoods. We love the plates of cookies that people no healthier than us bring to our door thinking they might cheer us up. Through it all, through all the veils of doctors' diagnoses and hospital visits and worry and concern, we all learn more about the meaning of life, the meaning of love, and the incredible journey this life has been. And then, there comes a time for each of us, a private moment just as when we came into this earth, when we need to learn to say goodby and rejoice in completing our journey.