GROWING OLD IS NOT FOR SISSIES, Part 4:
A New Chapter, A New Word
"For age is opportunity no less than youth itself, though in another dress, and as the evening twilight fades away, the sky is filled with stars, invisible by day."
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
I won't lie to you, the week between our conversation and the move to the nursing home was tough and there were lots of tears. My mother-in-law went through the full cycle of the grieving process, sometimes brave, sometimes angry, sometimes disconsolate, always emotional. But in the end, things went smoothly and she handled the transition like a champion.
We visited her this week and she is making the best of being somewhere she never wanted to be. Her room is lovely, cheerful, and decorated with lots of family pictures and mementos of younger days. She has a stream of family and friends, both in person and on Facebook. We met several workers and visitors who said she is a cheerful, fascinating woman, full of stories of flying airplanes in Powder Puff Derbies and raising six children, seventeen grandchildren, and twelve great-grandchildren in a genteel Southern town. She is doing her best at making herself at home in her new surroundings.
There's just one thing . . .
From time to time, she expresses a yearning to return home. She tells others this new place is only temporary. She seeks reassurances that her old room and her old house are still there for her to go back to. She's accepted the nursing home in her head, but in her heart she'll never be completely at peace.
I think those feelings are perfectly normal, and there's even a word that encompasses the whole range of emotions experienced by someone in her situation. But it's not an English word. It's from Portuguese, my second language.
Linguists say that among the world's languages, one of the hardest terms to adequately translate is "saudade" (pronounced sow-DODGE-gee), the Portuguese word for a deep feeling, a sense of loss, a profound longing for someone, something, some place, or some event that one is fond of, which is gone, but might return in a distant future. "Saudades" are what one feels towards people, places, or situations such as:
* An old way of life that is gone
* A lost lover
* A faraway place where one was raised
* Loved ones who have died
* One's lost youth
Scholars believe this word came to life in the 15th Century when ships of the Portuguese Empire sailed away to Africa, Asia, and Brazil. Those who sailed felt a profound homesickness, a deep yearning to return to the land of their birth and youth. Those who stayed behind - the women, children and old folks - deeply suffered from their absence, feeling an overwhelming sadness for those who departed on the long journeys to the unknown, then disappeared in shipwrecks, died in battle, or simply never returned. Both groups suffered the constant sense that something was missing and felt the yearning to be reunited with their loved ones who had sailed or who had stayed at home.
"Saudades." I need to teach this new/old wonderful word to my mother-in-law and those around her. Doing so may not change how she feels but having a label for those feelings will help her understand them. It's like finally getting a diagnosis for a perplexing ailment - things at last make sense.
My heart hurts for her because she is stranded between two home-places. Her ship has sailed away from familiar waters into uncharted seas but the new world is not yet in sight. In that limbo, she will continue to feel "saudades," at least until she returns at long last to her real home in heaven.