image: Shhh by Str8UpSkills
Once again I’m reminded that most people don’t enjoy talking about dying the way I do. Last night we had a guest.
A long-time friend of the hubster’s arrived yesterday evening after a lapse of at least fifteen years, and the three of us sat down to do some catch-up over platters of nachos, ginger snaps, and tea. The conversation ranged back and forth between us, as good conversations are supposed to, until it tripped over the subject of my hospice work at which point my enthusiasm for the topic hijacked the next half hour or so.
Looking back now I can recall a few moments that should have cued me to our guest’s growing discomfort. Initially he squirmed, but that wasn’t definitive. It was always possible that our cozy, leather couch was making him uncomfortable. Then he took a stab at changing the subject…twice…but I can be like a rat terrier when locked onto something that interests me. The hubster finally stepped in to back him up on a third attempt but I deftly steered that topic back around to dying, too.
Finally, I started hearing terms like “morbid” and “depressing” thrown into the mix at which point I realized I really, really needed to shut up, but it was too late. I was having a Toyota moment. My tongue was like a gas pedal pushed to the floor, resisting any and all attempts to disengage it, and I couldn’t for the life of me close my mouth. I just couldn’t. I watched our guest’s eyes dart around the room, looking for a path of escape as I came barreling down on him, but no matter how I pumped the brakes my mouth just wouldn’t stop.
The hubster finally seized on a millisecond of silence (supplied by my need for air) and stretched his arms, yawned, and claimed it was time for bed. At 8:30. Our guest seized the opportunity and made a break for his room, a polite good night trailing over his shoulder as he disappeared behind the door.
Needless to say, I woke up in the middle of the night feeling the peculiar kind of dismay and regret that only 3:00 a.m. can inspire. Why do things always look so much worse at that time of night anyway? The darkness and silence of those hours are like some kind of weird, mental magnifying glass, blowing up even harmless thoughts into looming, misshapen monsters, never mind an embarrassing, social faux pas. I spent the next two hours tossing and turning, obsessively crafting a range of apologies (from dignified to humorous to prostrate) before finally dozing back off again from sheer exhaustion.
The hubster woke me up in the morning and the first thing I did was sit up, throw my arms around his neck, and tell him how sorry I was for being such a motor mouth. He burst out laughing.
Tough night? He hugged me back. You weren’t that bad. Really. I stopped it before it went too far.
And by god, I loved him for the effort….for trying to tell me it wasn’t as bad as it was, for laughing at my flaws instead of condemning them, and for shrinking the midnight monster back down to a more manageable size. Whether what he said was true or not is beside the point. (I’m pretty sure our guest paused and peered both ways before venturing out of his room this morning.) The important thing is that he cared enough to say it.
I ended up not apologizing to the hubster’s friend. Partly because I thought it would just embarrass him to bring it up, partly because I didn’t trust myself not to try and explain again why the topic of dying is so important to me. He didn’t need to hear anymore about it. Unlike me, his earliest experience with dying was traumatic and scarring, and no amount of sharing from my side was going to wipe away the long shadow it left in its wake. I can’t believe I missed that. I wish I would have talked less and listened more.
I’ll try and remember that next time.
copyright 2010 Dia Osborn