One of the things that I love most about my work is that I learn so much from my clients. We meet our clients on the cusp of huge life changing events. We see their generosity, their tempers and their vulnerabilities. We see them at their worst, and often at their best—we see them human, and I cannot help but to love them because of that.
Last week was no exception. We were hired to clean out and stage the home of a retired 18th British lit. professor. “Jane Austen and all the good ones,” she said, a glimmer in her eye. Never married, she had moved from a small town in the mid-west to get her degrees and never left the East Coast save a few years teaching in Rome. Now some 50 years rich in friends, teaching, art, and, most recently, a diagnosis of early dementia, she was being taken home by a brother and a sister to live out her days. It was a poignant week.
As we packed the few things that she wanted to take with her, a steady stream of friends paid homage, saying their goodbyes, stunned that their friend was leaving. Very few were aware of her inability to eat or sleep, the mysterious falls that she could not remember. She took only a few books, no computer, none of her research. She did not try to cling, as so many of us do, to our objects and achievements, to the things that seem to make us who we think we are. Perhaps it was her brain going, but I think it was that she had reached a level of enlightenment few of us reach. She stood present in the moment, in her self wallpapered gothic rooms, to be with her friends. With her easy smile, she was there as they realized that this was goodbye.
I don’t know if my client was religious, but her attitude last week was nothing less than beatific. We all wanted to be near her, in hopes maybe, that some of her grace would rub off on us. It seems that she had learned much from her scholarship. She reminded me of one of those fabulous Austen characters. She lived how she wanted to live, defying norms, and yet, when need be, coming to understand the circularity of life, the pull of family, and, when words for objects no longer come, their comfort.