I had dinner with a friend last night and she mentioned her father-in-law is dying. She mentioned the family will be taking a trip to visit him with the very big possibility this will be the last time they see him.
This morning I wanted to write her husband a note, tell him something, but what? It’s one of those times when we fumble, we don’t know what to say, and anything we think to say seems, cheesy, wrong, or ridiculous.
My heart goes out to my friends who will soon be dealing with one of life’s most difficult events. Four different people, different genders, different relationships, different stages in life. Where do we find the models to cope with a final visit of a loved one? How do you know that last, “I love you” has enough power to last a lifetime? What if we don’t feel love? How long do you hug a person before you feel it’s ok to let them go forever? What if you don’t want to touch them? How do you inventory your brain’s memory of that person and feel confident you have enough memories to last a lifetime? Maybe you don’t want your memories? What about the sneaky little regrets that suddenly pop up? That unique anxiety that suddenly searches your brain to fix a regret in 5 seconds. Can there be models for this? Should there be? What are the words I can give a friend in such a complex situation?
Helplessness . . . is so tough. We are constantly taught to make things better, and then there is death, the process of death. Sometimes it comes with warning and it’s a slow agonizing road. So many lives keep moving, have to keep moving around someone who is dying. The world doesn’t stop for a birth, why would it stop for a death? Bills gotta get paid. My friends have two days . . . and then what? Go home back across the country and live until a phone call? I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, but it is how it is in their case. I guess, what I find so difficult, walking away from a significant person, like a parent, who is so close to dying. I’m not sure where I get this idea everyone should have the right to stay if they want or need to.
My grandmother’s death was barreling straight at me like a jetliner. Who could miss that, right? In many ways, I did, I didn’t see the jetliner, even when I was straight out told, “she is dying”. I was right beside her, but not with her. In some ways we were both dying and slowly being resurrected. The last day I saw her, at least the one I remember as her last day, was so simple it almost went right over my head. It was so deep in feelings, intensity, and denial, it didn’t seem real. The brain and the heart really duked it out on that day. I am thankful my brain and my heart, as disastrous and protective as they were, found the wisdom to collect the memories and the words I needed for both of us on her last day. I’m glad when I walked away from her my head and my heart wouldn’t allow me to comprehend just how large those steps were.
I love the process of death because it challenges the hardest of hearts to feel. Death is relentless. The strength to journey through death is an important strength. The lessons of death are difficult but beautiful if allowed to be learned. I often think the strength we find in the final hours of a loved ones life is the largest example of who we should be in our daily lives, just on a less intense level of course. It is the strength to arrive and tell those we love they matter, their life matters in whatever form it has taken; good or bad.
So my friends, with all their brave hearts, will make their journey to their loved one, and I will wish them all that life and death can offer them during this difficult time. I wish them lots of complexity, simplicity, laughter, crying, anger, sadness, resolution and all the colors that come when life meets death. I will wish them love.