My dear friend Lynne e-mailed me yesterday to say that her mom had suffered a stroke and was in hospice care, waiting the end of her long journey through life. I went last night to sit with them and instead of being a depressing event, I found it oddly affirming.
My own experience with death has been varied, beginning with my grandad’s when I was seven or eight. It wasn’t a good experience at all and that experience has colored my perceptions of what death is all about and how we, in the US, approach it. When my own dad died 21 years ago, I got a better glimpse into what death is, and perhaps a better way to deal with it than the sudden shuffling off of the body, out of sight and mind until reappearing days later in a vastly altered state.
The thing with my dad was this: moments–seconds, really–after he was pronounced deceased, I went into his hospital room to say my goodbyes to him, and while I knew he was gone, there remained in that anonymous room my dad’s spirit. He was there. I know he was there. Those few minutes I spent with him, alone, saying what I needed to say to him, were sacred, and I will be grateful for all of my days that I had that time with him. I’m grateful, too, that in the days leading up to his death, my brothers and I were able to be with him and mom, and they were good days. We all knew the end could come at any time and that dad was not fearful in any way. He was very much himself, fully aware of what was going on and, I think, aware that his time was short. His faith made his passage an easy one, and for me, knowing that he had no fear, it was easier for me as well. It was a good death.
I avoided going to the funeral home to “view the body”–and what a grim thing that is–until I could avoid it no longer. That’s a carryover from my grandad’s funeral, and as I suspected, it was not a good experience. The person before me resembled my dad, but there was nothing remaining of what made dad dad. His spirit was gone.
Seeing Lynne with her mom last night brought back those good memories of those short last days with my dad. Lynne’s tenderness with her mother, the kindness of the nurse who came in to check on Juanita, and even the humor Lynne and I shared will, I hope, ease both Lynne and her mother into this inevitable transition. There will be tears and heartache, of course, but the good memories remain and bring comfort. It is good not to be alone.
To Lynne, I can only say thank you for honoring me by including me in this time in your life. I love you, dear, dear friend, and I will be here for you throughout this time, and in the days to come.