Posts Tagged ‘dying’

A Comforting Ancient Story

March 25, 2009

My dear friend SanityFound sent me this ancient story to comfort and fortify me about my upcoming visit to my dying uncle. It did indeed comfort me, and it resonated with truth. I hope it helps some other reader here:

In ancient times it was believed that when someone gets an illness, someone who doesn’t die suddenly, it is God giving those that passed on a chance to be with those who visit the the ones soon to pass.  In ancient times those who loved the one who was ill would visit them, staying a while at their bedside with their eyes closed, just breathing and feeling. They said it comforted them feeling those gone already surrounding their loved one.

 God brings the angels who know the one soon passing so that they do not fear, and to give comfort to those visiting.

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To My Everlasting Shame

February 6, 2009

I did not stay at my father’s bedside, to be with  him until he passed. There he was, right upstairs in the bedroom, while I hid like a coward downstairs and out of sight. We knew it would be that night. The doctors had called the family in and said so. 

All his brothers and sisters, the aunts and uncles I grew up with,  had been pretty much staying at my parents’ house for those last weeks.  The pasta pots were always boiling. They brought Italian bread and provolone cheese and sweet salami with big green olives. Most importantly,  they brought the black humor which is our family trademark , especially during our darkest hours.  It sustained us and carried us.

And yet, there was an age regression that took place for me. At age 32, they were still the grown ups and I was like a child again. That’s just how the dynamics morphed. When it was soon to be time, my favorite aunt had a talk with me and asked me if I really wanted to watch my father die. She explained to me, 32 going on 8, that dying was not like in the movies. It was quite a frightening thing to see.  She encouraged me to have my quiet time alone with him, now in a coma, and say my good-bye. I did so. Then I walked out of the room and all his siblings and my mother went in and the door was firmly closed.

And so he died with his wife, brothers and sisters all around and me nowhere in sight. They later said it was an awful thing. Blood and God knows what everywhere. Even his brothers were shaken by it. It was not something I should have had to see, they told me. As if they had protected me from something.

But not long after, I realized it was my own father’s awful thing. I should have been there. I allowed myself to be shielded by my beloved and well meaning aunt with childlike trust.  I should have been there. I was not a child. I was not, in truth, protected or shielded. I was written out of the last line of the last page of his life.  No, we wrote me out. 

And I am so ashamed, sorry, and regretful… What if my father knew or sensed I wasn’t there, right through the invisible walls of his coma? My shame is this: that I, his oldest and most responsible child, should have  accompanied him on the final stage of his journey. I should have been there. 

No tidy ending to this post. I should have been there.  

(This post was inspired by a poem by Cordie entitled:  If I had it to do all again)

If I Were to Die Today (Part 2 – Relationship With Family)

December 18, 2008

Well, I’m still here…stroke symptoms morphed into a lupus flare…ok, I can deal with that, not so scary. Bed and tea and my laptop…small price to pay for some aches and pain!

Yesterday I focused on the spiritual aspects of death…and my not being prepared in that regard.  But today I want to talk about my loved ones. Most of all my husband and children.

I can only write from a selfish point of view on this, so here goes: I don’t want to miss watching my children’s lives further unfold. I have no grandchildren yet. I want to know them. I want them to remember me. Yes…I want to live on a few years longer by having a place in their minds…. I want to see what they look like! Since both my kids are pretty much clones of their father, maybe some recessive gene somewhere would reincarnate my physical characteristics… Narcissistic, certainly. But truthfully, don’t most of us long for a genetic  replica when we, or our kids, are pregnant?

Not so selfishly, I worry about them handling their grief. Oh I know, of course, that we all manage to do it.  But…loss is not a strong point for any of us in this family.  It takes us a long, long time….and I so wish I could spare them what God has decreed to be necessary…(There I go again. God certainly seems to be talking to me…however discreetly…)

My husband? Oh…this is a man who does not know who he is if he doesn’t have someone to give his whole heart and devotion to. He cannot stand to be alone. He would have to, HAVE to, find someone else to spend the remainder of his life with…to give that to… I’ve told him I would want that for him. But just between us….I don’t!!! I can’t STAND the thought of another woman having what was mine…his love, him….the thought of him holding and hugging someone else…I feel sick as I write this…but I also know he would NEED that….its not about ME anymore….but I’m just being truthful..we can all say what sounds like the right thing…but truthfully it makes me feel slightly ill….

Well, I comfort myself with the thought that if I were to die today, I would pass on to paradise, to the place where dreams are made…and later, my husband and kids would follow, and however they’ve gotten through their journey without me, none of it would matter in the WAY BIGGER scheme of things.

Well, I’m realizing that in both these posts I’ve pondered dying in terms of my relationship with others.  Not a word about my relationship with myself. Guess there will be a part 3 coming….

Dying: A Family Rite of Passage

November 29, 2007

When my mother lost her father it was sad, but not unexpected. He was 80 years old, had had that lingering kind of cancer that old men often get, and there was plenty of time to prepare for his death.

Not that any of us ever acknowledged his demise or named the dread disease he lived with for so long. Until the day he died he spoke of getting well, would not reveal his feelings or let us tell him ours, and we all aided and abetted his fantasy.

He hid behind the wall of an impossible dream because he needed to, but that wall troubled my mother long after he was gone. It’s not just that I miss him, she would say. It’s not that I haven’t accepted his death. But it feels like there was unfinished business. Something left undone.

How well I remember the false gaiety of those last visits with him, the strain of false smiles and tears held in check. It seemed so unnatural not to acknowledge the obvious. The natural. But what else could we do? In a society in which every other bodily function is treated as a group rite of passage, from christening to wedding to baby showers and on again, the last one of all is oddly ignored, considering its inevitability.

We are taught to live well and love well, to birth well and parent well. No one teaches us to die well, or help another person to do it. When death finally comes we are poorly prepared.

Two years after my grandfather died, my own father was struck with a lethal, untreatable form of cancer. The doctors could offer us no type of therapy, no extra time, no hope at all. Here was the inevitable. Here was the shock. But here also was tragedy. My father was only 53 years old.

At first I wished it could be any other way. Why not a heart attack, an accident, something sudden? What could be worse than the horror of having to just sit there and watch him die?

We had so many questions.

Should we tell him, and if so, when? Might it not be kinder to protect him until the last possible moment from the anguish we already suffered?

And how would we handle him? We worried less over his imminent death than over the helplessness which must precede it. How would such a bull of a man, who hated hospitals and even aspirin all his life, handle such an indignity? He was not the kind of person who would allow you to feel sorry for him. He was a giver all his life who didn’t know how to take. Gifts embarrassed him and so did thank you’s.

What would become of our family without our hub, our rock, our peacemaker who held us all together? It was he we turned to with all our problems.

The answers, though painful as all growing is, turned out to be simple. We called a secret, emergency powwow of his brothers and sisters. It was the last family gathering from which he was excluded. A very wise uncle settled the hotly debated issue of whether he should be told by saying: “He’ll be leaving you soon enough. Why put a distance between you even sooner by pretending? You can put all that energy into helping each other get through this.” Once my father was told we decided together, with him, to treat his passing as the natural though untimely event that it was. He would do it at home, among his loved ones. Just as birth is no longer something that happens to women but a process they participate in, my father’s death did not happen to him. He died.

We never pretended that he would get well, or treated him suddenly differently because he was dying. More often than not it was he who comforted us, retaining to the end the identity of the father we’d known and loved.

This was a family that never learned to say good-bye. Anyone going away on a long trip would find, at the door, that everyone had suddenly disappeared. It hurt too much to take leave of each other.

Now, of course, we had to.

We wanted to. Each of us spent private time with him saying all the things you always mean to say to someone you love and somehow never do. And in those quiet, solemn talks, mostly filled with affirmations, he launched us. We flew.

My young brother came forward with a strength we had not known was there because we had not needed to look. Two grown daughters and a wife stopped being girls at last because the man who had always sheltered them needed women now. We learned to give, and he to receive.

His relinquishment of the outer cares freed him to undergo a long overdue spiritual journey, a journey he shared every step of the way. He groped for, wrestled with, and found his God, and left us with his finger pointed in the right direction.

We didn’t just sit and watch him die. We all participated. It was intensely painful, but intensely intimate. I learned more about my father in those last few weeks than I had in 32 years, or might have in another 32. There was a feeling of wholeness in his passing with, rather than from, us. It was as if old age and the wisdom that accompany it had been condensed, but not lost. I miss him, but not who he would have been. It could have been worse.