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