Living Through Death

Most of us can only look at death from the outside. We struggle to understand and want to be in it for the people we love, but their’s is a solitary path.

My friend is facing the loss of her brother to advancing cancer. She wants to be there for him and craves the close communication that will forge more lasting memories. Her helplessness and yearning brings back the last months of my sister’s life.

It has been over 20 years and I still feel the poignancy of her son’s tears at her unwillingness to share her thoughts and feelings. I assured him if his mother’s love and tried to explain that this final choice of how to die was hers alone.

But I didn’t really get it. I visited her often in the last months, helping her husband by  tending her physical needs. We prepared beautiful trays with tiny bites of food to whet her appetite. I sat in the room next-door to hers, listening and hoping to be able to sense when she needed something. I gardened outside her window, dead-heading her beloved coreopsis that reached for the sun

I wasn’t with her because she preferred to be alone listening to a recording of harp music.

The last few days were no different. There were no heart-to-heart sister talks. She wouldn’t allow any discussion of her death. I remember that she was shocked and offended when the hospice nurse told her to think about writing her obituary. ” I knew they expected me to die. I didn’t know they meant now!”

In her own efficient way she handled it. Her husband and local son were summoned and told to write down copious instructions and notes about the nuts and bolts of their lives.

When I left her I knew it was the last time I would see her. But there were no goodbyes allowed. Next time…

Her husband  called while I was driving the five hours home. She was no longer responding. Their other son had arrived from California and her family was with her.  Another call came in the morning – she was gone.

I struggled for a long time to accept my sister’s decision not to share with those of us who loved her so deeply. And I knew that she loved us.

I want more for my friend. And I know whatever moments she can share with her brother will be precious.

We will each have our turn at death. Each loss teaches us more about the journey toward it.



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