I recently heard an NPR show about “a good death”. The author said he chose not to use that term, but rather to talk about the transition, and that there is a better view upon death that is uncommon in this society – the view of death as a part of life.
This is similar to the conversation we had today around the dining room table. My dad, my sister, myself, a doctor, nurse, and an intern were there. And of course, my mother. The subject of the meeting. My mother, hooked up to oxygen, an errant tear in her eye now and then, as we talked, took notes, and tried to stay on track, to be practical and not emotional. The doctor, an earnest nerdy Opie type, and one the most beautiful men I have ever encountered, said that the journey to death can be transformational, a blessed experience. Yet, to hear that and attach it to a person I love, a person I have never really been without and don’t want to lose….. that took tremendous effort.
I moved back here, to Colorado, a place I had already been (and my preference is to always go somewhere NEW – forward, not backward!) to be with my parents in their twilight years. I was explicit with that, honest with myself about it. I had it all worked out. But the reality is a little sketchier than my solid ten-year plan. I’m not ready.
When are you ever ready to part with the people who have always been there for you? When they are gone, what is left? These last few months, as my mother’s health has been failing, I have wanted to talk to someone about it. But the person I always talk to is my mother, so that was not possible. I had to turn inward, to find refuge within myself. Sometimes that’s slim pickings.
So tonight, I returned home to my dogs, apologetic for their late dinner. I decided my own dinner would be Wild Turkey. But after the first drink, I paused. I feel the need to be more present than I’ll be if I choose to zone out. Tempting as the temporary respite from this pain might be, I don’t want to fight the true and real emotions that are coming up. Tears and sadness and heartache are testimony to a real relationship, one that matters in my life. What better tribute is there to my wonderful mother than to be here, really be here, and feel all the things that this transition brings up? To witness the emotions in myself and in others, and to acknowledge the depth of feeling – this is the gift of loving.
What’s true is that we never really know when it is our time to go. Some people live a long full life. Others don’t get the chance. And how do we ever know which category we will fall into? Some deaths are sudden and unexpected. Others may be drawn out, which gives us the time to say goodbye.
I have experienced very few deaths in my 51 years. A few friends have died of cancer. I’ve lost grandparents and aunts and uncles. I’ve lost pets; most tragically a horse who died young and without warning. I got a prescription for valium when that happened, and I realized that I would need to learn to cope better with death before I dealt with the loss of my parents. I started to study Buddhism and practice non-attachment.
Now I begin this journey, accompanied by the people I am close to. I’m not alone. And universally, I’m even less alone. Thousands if not millions of people make this journey every day. I’m one of the lucky ones. We have some time. I don’t know how much, and I don’t want to know. I will treasure moments with my mother, and I will take a break when I need to. I’ll get through it.
And although I can put a good face on this and recognize the opportunity for spiritual growth and practicing compassion, it really sucks. That’s the bottom line. The spiritual growth will come with, and after, the mind-blowing, bring-me-to-my-knees pain. The most important person in my life is on her own journey. And I will be there beside her, but I will not be happy about it.