I’d forgotten…how much better it is to be there when someone dies, than not.
Our dear friend Mr. B died at home, surrounded by those who loved him, last Sunday morning…which was actually pretty fast. The doctors said he’d have more time, but then I’ve found that doctors usually overestimate; partly because they feel it’s kinder and partly because they tend, personally, to be more afraid of death than the rest of us.
But Mr. B was glad it didn’t take as long as they said it would. After four grueling, futile months of rotating between hospital, rehab center, and wound care center he was more than ready to move on. He was grateful.
That’s the often overlooked gift of extended suffering. Horrible as it is, there’s simply nothing like it for helping us let go of this otherwise far too rare and luminous world. If something didn’t come along to tarnish the glow and loosen our grip, dying could (and sometimes does) drag on forever in this current age of limitless medical intervention.
Mr. B and his beautiful wife, Mrs. B, wanted the hubster and I to come and be there with the family during the passage; to help, to laugh, to cry, to steady, to witness. I was surprised, deeply touched, and thrilled. I love “a good death”; the kind that happens when someone dies prepared, surrendered, and surrounded. There’s something potent and magical that happens when a family assembles to lift and love one of its members through the final transition, something mystical and disorienting that occurs when a body and the life that inhabited it whisper farewell and break their long embrace. Standing as witness to these things both shatters and transforms me, every time; actually it shatters and transforms everyone that’s lucky enough to be there.
Strangely enough, this…the good and healing part of dying…is the aspect I somehow forget about in between. I’m not sure why exactly. Maybe because, in spite of its potency, the experience is nevertheless fleeting and insubstantial and therefore easily overshadowed once it’s past. Or maybe I forget because this part has become so invisible in our culture of death aversion that’s its just hard to hang onto. I don’t know.
What I do know is that there’s an energy, a force generated during a good death that both cuts and cauterizes simultaneously. It mauls me extensively, each time, but then it lays eggs of some vast and tender love there in the wound itself, as if it was some horrible yet sublime parasite, transforming me against my will into something better. Someone more courageous, caring, and gentle. Somebody wiser.
I think that was the gift Mr. B. wanted for me..for all of us. I think that underneath everything else that was going on, somehow he intuitively understood that giving us all a good death would make the gaping hole after he left easier to survive. Easier to recover and return from. He used his own dying to create a final, profoundly generous, and life-affirming act.
copyright Dia Osborn 2011
It was a beautiful experience and I feel so honored to have been invited. Although Dia was formally invited by Bill a few days before he closed his eyes, not to open them again until he heard the voices of his son and daughter…and then to say good-bye to his wife Becky…I was somehow invited by Bill on another non-verbal level. I just knew, and it was “perfect somehow” throughout those two days”.
Having had other Spiritual events unfold in my life, I could sense that God was orchestrating every moment…but you could tell that Bill had his say in it as well. He gathered who he wanted, waited until Sunday morning for everyone to wake up and with the sound of voices all around him of those who he loved and loved him…he let me know to go get Becky. She was “of course” a few steps away and knelt down to stroke his head and whisper good bye.
If I was ever confused about what a good death meant…I am not now. I suspect all deaths are “perfect” somehow, but we should all be so lucky, to move on as Bill did. His Memoral is this Saturday and it will be good to gather again in his spirit and celebrate a life well lived. Rather than bury his ashes…I will always remember his quality of Loyalty. I will strive to have loyalty in my life as well has he expressed it and in doing that…every time I express or see Loyalty…I’ll think of Bill. In that way, he will live on in me.
I love you Bill…
Thanks for coming back for me…
And leave some fish for the rest of us…
We’ll see you soon,
P.S. How lucky am I to have Dia in my life. I could not have guessed she would have been one of my great teachers in this journey. Thanks Sweetheart. 🙂
Having you and Dia there with us was …. I can’t dream up a word vast enough so I’m settling for WONDERFUL. I am so grateful to you both for loving Dad (and Mrs B) so well. I was afraid. But, you two were so at ease with this process of dying that gradually it put me at ease too. Because you and Dia were there, and from your example, I found that I could accept Dad’s transitioning away from us, and even see the beauty of it. You had words that worked magic on me. Thanks for reciting the Poem by Kahil Gibron in the wake of Dad’s final farewell. You knew all the words by heart and delivered them gracefully through your tears. It was, I thought, a beautiful way to sing him over. Thanks Cal, from the bottom of my heart, Thank you.
Hey Deb…Cal loved getting a comment on my blog! We had dinner with Becky the other night and she’s holding up like a champ. I trust you’re finding your way through the grief, too. Love you girl!
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You need to publish to a larger audience, my friend. This is precisely what we all need to read and learn about so that we can move beyond our ultimate fear. Those doctors who stumble in fear, could also benefit from your insight.
Oh Dia. When you write ” …transforming me against my will into something better. Someone more courageous, caring, and gentle. Somebody wiser…” I think, ‘how is that possible?’. How could you possibly be more so? You embody all those qualities with one hand tied behind your back. You and Cal came to bear witness, to shore up Mrs B and hold Dad’s hand, Your presence there was like shelter in a storm, for them to be sure, and for me too. Such is your comforting.
Thanks for writing Dad’s Obit. It is, not surprisingly, a work of art. Every word, just right. Yet another gift of your time and talent that you gave Mr and Mrs B during the hard parts. So much giving… including the gift of your hands and back making Dad comfortable, etc…. so much giving I can’t recite it all here. I just thank you, Dia. You are one of those earthbound angels, aren’t you?
If I’m an angel then they’ve really dropped their standards. 🙂 And you’re welcome Deb.