“To live in this world you must be able to do three things:
to love what is mortal, to hold it against your bones
knowing your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
let it go.” -Mary Oliver
Aahh…it’s that letting go, isn’t it?
I watch my sister sitting by her son’s bed that hospice delivered to the living room before an ambulance brought him home. She sits in the corner by him, holding his hand, patting his head, murmuring questions that he can no longer answer and telling him some of her favorites stories of his life. Her slender back is still straight but her head is bowed by the weight of the knowledge of a life without him.
And his wife… there is an overwhelming poignancy in watching her use a stool to climb into the bed with him… I can’t describe it, but only tearfully rejoice that she has the courage to hold him to her. An old wish of mine* is fulfilled by this couple who are parting too soon.
I know that I ramble.
Because Mary Oliver’s way of being human (the only way) is a wrenching journey. I must lean into the love and the caregiving and then step back and take a breath – giving up the magical thinking that holding my breath will hold onto his life.
And I ramble because my mind wanders from loss to loss, remembering the strange little snippets of the past that release themselves into the present moment of grief.
Now, as his sister and brother lean over him – holding his hands and caressing his head, I remember my three older sisters, each in her different bed succumbing to death in varying degrees of acceptance.
When his sons and his daughter gather with their small children, I think of my grandniece who lost her fight with blastoma at four years old. There were children around her, too. And then she was gone.
And I am emotional today because being here reminds me of my friends who have lost their children and I want to cling to mine. I want to call them, hug them, hear their voices and somehow guarantee that I will not be asked to let them go after having loved them and held them to my bones.
But here and now as I breathe in sync with my nephew, I set aside all of the aggregate grief. I must release him to this transition. I will set aside thoughts of all who will live without him and open my heart to his journey.
I can do it for him.
*Years ago I wanted my sister to ask her husband to hold her she lay waiting in defiance of the inevitability of her illness. I don’t know if he ever did. It was not my place to ask.