In the last few weeks I have had a lot of deadlines. They’ve kept me busy working when I’ve not been playing with my family and enjoying the bevy of engaging social events we’ve had lately. It’s been a demanding but fun time.
In the last few months a dear friend was given the ultimate deadline. She was told that she only has a few months to live. She had to move to a hospice.
My friend is one of the most kind and truly sweet people I know. She has a lot of friends but little family. She counts on her friends to be her family and she receives that because she has always treated us with that amount of love. I’ve been seeing her once or twice a week and we spend a lot of time laughing. She is full of bittersweet joy and savouring every ounce of life she has left. She keeps telling me, I love my life; I don’t want it to end. I tell her, I know darling one, I know. I sit by her and hold her hand. All I can offer her is this – my presence.
Yesterday, I realized a few weeks had slipped by since I had been to see her. I had had another long day at my computer and was still eyeing a huge “to do” list on the scratch pad at the corner of my desk as the light disappeared from the sky outside my window. Something made me stop, pick up my cell and phone my friend. She said, oh Karen, I don’t know if I’m going to make it till tomorrow. That snapped me out of the state I was in. I had been giving imaginary importance to my deadlines and I realized in an instant that my friend’s impending deadline is the only truly important one. Life is a gift that comes with an unknown expiry date also known as death. Life rules with that ultimate deadline; it has the trump card.
I stopped what I was doing and went to comfort my friend. I helped the nursing staff explain some things to her in a way that she could understand. This allowed her to take advantage of what they were offering her in terms of comfort measures. She had been afraid but I stayed until they were able to implement a few things I knew would help her. When I left late in the evening she was her calm and centered self again. I should explain that I was a nurse for over 20 years and in my career I helped many people transition from living to death with maximal comfort and peace. I consider those times the greatest privilege I have received in my life and I would still be a nurse if I had not lost my firstborn son. My energy changed then and through the pain of that experience I’ve been opened to new paths for my life to take. It’s all good and I don’t have to wait till the end of my life to know that in life it really is ALL GOOD.
A couple of days from now my son would have been celebrating his 17th birthday, had he lived. He only had two precious days of life. Our dear cousins just lost their beautiful ten-year old daughter – very suddenly. I have had many years to grieve and process my son’s death. My cousins are still sinking into the depths of despair they will need to journey through before they can rise again into a deeper kind of joy in life. My darling friend in the hospice is finding joy in each in every moment that she can. People are afraid of death and afraid of deep emotions that cause us pain. I’ve learned that the only way out of them it to go through them, really feel them, and allow them to transform your outlook. Great losses or great threats teach us life’s most important lessons: to savour our life and find joy wherever and whenever we can.
Despite how it seems sometimes, we really aren’t here to suffer. We are here to experience as much joy as possible. Suffering’s only purpose is to awaken you to our joyful purpose before the day comes when you face your own ultimate deadline. Do you really understand that? I think I do, most of the time. I see my dying friend and my family grieving the loss of their angel daughter and as hard as these things are to bear witness to, I treasure them for what they really are: reminders to savour my own life each and every day.
My ten-year old cousin’s sudden death found me writing this poem, Darling One, on the cold and frosty December morning after we lost her. I don’t know if it will make sense to you. I think it’s part of the way I process pain and it’s my way to make some small sense of her death and of my friend’s impending death. I share this small collection of words in hope they might help one of you who would take the time to read this. Bless you.
Death is the most democratic thing on earth. It happens to all of us. None of us know when we’ll get the ultimate deadline slapped on our life. Sometimes you need to make a call to a friend to help you remember that the secret code to life is to savour it.
Are we all, here and now
until we ask
until we see
Pausing to Breathe
Tiny Details catching our attention
This is where strength and healing live
You are already there
we find these things
where we can
Embracing whatever joy floats up
Bittersweet at first
Pure in the end
There’s a reason our minds
Let pain go
And joy remain
It’s where we’ll always find you
when we ask
when we see
you teach us
our shared treasure
dearest Darling One