I can still remember every single second of the last time I saw my mother—and it’s been 17 1/2 years. I knew then that I would never see her [on this earth] again, which made the pain of walking out the door of that hospital room a million times harder.
She gave me her usual impish little half smile, put up her hand and waved with her pinky finger saying “Love you little, Love you big, Love you like a little pig.” I responded with a wave of my pinky finger and our only possible answer of “Love you big, love you small, love you like a rubber ball.”
We had a number of little sayings to ease the sadness of leaving…and I did a lot of leaving over the years. First, when I left home to drive to California [to live] when I was 20, and then after each visit home over the course of those 19 years. But that final time? It will never leave my heart.
I had finally moved back to the east coast and looking forward to seeing her often, when God called her home. I was too late to do any of the “when I move closer, we can…” plans I had made with her.
“Death ends a life, not a relationship.”
― Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie
Recently, when I lived and worked in Pennsylvania, I had the privilege of meeting a wonderful man named Dave. He had one of those auras that reached out and touched you when no physical contact had taken place. Dave was a hard worker, nose to the grind at all times, but always had a smile for everyone; albeit a sad smile. After I had known him for a couple of months, I asked him if everything was okay…telling him I could feel his sadness through his smile. His response blew me away.
Dave told me that a year earlier, he had been diagnosed with cancer. The news devastated his wife: his lifelong mate. She did not know how she could go on without him by her side. While Dave battled the cancer, his loving wife waited on him hand and foot to show him her love and miraculously, he recovered fully from the cancer. A few days after he got the ‘all clear,’ she died in her sleep of a heart attack. “It should have been me,” he told me. “I was the one who was supposed to die, not her!” This poor man could not get over the grief that his beloved wife had spent the last months of her life tending to him–to save his life. His greatest sorrow was that he didn’t have an opportunity to show her his great love too.
“If you gave someone your heart and they died, did they take it with them? D0 you spend the rest of forever with a hole inside you that can’t be filled?”
― Jodi Picoult, Nineteen Minutes
It is hard to watch someone we love, die. Even if there is no suffering involved [as in the case of my mother in law with her Dementia], our knowledge that this beloved person will be forever gone from our lives is devastating. To never touch them again, to never kiss them again, to never brush the hair from their forehead….seems almost unbearable. But, since we have no choice, we must find a way to reconcile this loss to ourselves; which makes it feel almost like a part of us is dying with them.
Right now, I am watching my son in law, James, deal with the imminent death of his ailing father with such grace. It has been a slow progression, so they (he and his father) have had the opportunity to create many wonderful memories over these past couple of years; a memorable week in Napa and an equally memorable week at Michigan State (where his dad is an alumni), to name a few. Because James has had so much time to prepare, he seems somewhat at peace with his father’s passing. While it still won’t be easy on him, at least he was wise enough to take full advantage of the time they had to create memories that will comfort him in his loss.
“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.”
― Thomas Campbell
My daughter, James’ wife, has often commented how much ‘at peace’ James seems with his father’s passing. She is not sure she could be so serene. Could I? Could you? We all face grief so differently…but why?
We all have to deal with loss—we have no choice—but what allows some to truly be okay with it? And I am talking beyond faith here. I know, in my heart of hearts, that my mother is with her beloved Father in Heaven and feels no sorrow or pain; and for that fact alone, I am happy for her. But, after all of these years, I still miss the heck out of her! When I face a crisis, I still throw an internal pity party for not having my mother to turn to for advice. My husband, Steve, still openly grieves his wife who has been gone for 31 years now. She will forever be the other half of his ‘we,’ living on actively in his mind.
I can’t help but wonder if we could all be a little more serene over the death of a loved one if we were given the actual date in advance: ample opportunity to show our love–just one more time. [I doubt that we would ever feel like there were enough ‘one more times’ but at least we could give it our best shot.] If that is true, and we don’t know which moment of any of our lives is the last, shouldn’t we be living every moment of life with forgiveness, kindness and generosity towards those we fear losing?..because we are going to lose them at some point, whether through their death or our own.
Although this blog may feel a bit convoluted, I do have a point. My point is this; live like you are dying, and treat every person you love as if you just found out that they are dying. If we try to do this, surely we could face death with more serenity. Because in the end, all we have left is memories…and while good memories are a big warm blanket of love, lack of good memories plants seeds of guilt and regret.
“The mightiest power of death is not that it can make people die, but that it can make the people left behind want to stop living.”
― Fredrik Backman, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry
And so I challenge you to do more, care more, be more…to the people you love, so that when their time comes to go home, you can let go with grace.