“Life and death, a twisted vine sharing a single root. Death is the passing of life and life…is the stringing together of so many little passings.”–Rabbi Rami Shapiro
I awoke this morning at 5:30 to find an unusual sight. Although the calendar read April 18th, which in this part of the country signals springtime weather, crystalline flakes were wafting gently earthward. I was up at the crack of dawn to attend a conference on loss and caregiving in Philadelphia that was sponsored by our local public TV/radio station WHYY and The Hospice Foundation of America. As a family caregiver I was invited to participate in a panel discussion about the role I played in my husband Michael’s care and provide feedback to the professionals who are charged with tending our loved ones at the end of their lives. I was struck by the synchronicity of this meteorological phenomenon.
As a caregiver, I have learned that nothing is predictable and that change can be welcome and even refreshing at times. We need to be prepared to change mind-set, as we would need to be in readiness to change clothing to accommodate the weather. To take the analogy to the next level, we can’t control the circumstances we find ourselves in any more than we have dominion over the weather. We do, however, have choice in the way we respond to situations, just as we do to the temperature or precipitation. I simply pulled on my black wool coat rather than the lightweight cotton jacket I had planned to wear. Granted, molding attitude is a bit trickier. I have spent countless hours engaged in self talk to convince myself that death is inevitable and that what truly matters is the quality of the time spent between our birth into this world and that which takes us to the next realm.
At the beginning of the conference, a segment was shown of “On Our Own Terms,” which is Bill Moyers’ series on death and dying. One of the people being profiled made a statement that remained with me, “Death”, he said, “is like sugar. It gives life pizzazz; makes it sweet.” The words were spoken from a man who was staring the end of his corporeal existence in the face.
As a professional caregiver, I have met many who related that their end stage diagnosis heralded the dawning of a new life. Amends were made over wrongs committed that would otherwise have festered in the heart. Loving words were said that might not have found voice. Misunderstandings were cleared up when they would have remained tangled like a ball of yarn in the paws of a kitten.
In the last year of Michael’s life, he too reached out and came to terms with the choices he had made, determined that reconstruction needed to take place. Without the conscious acknowledgement that his own death was imminent, he performed a life review. I imagine that it brought him a sense of peace, even during his last comatose days, as his family from whom he had been estranged, gathered around the bed. At his memorial service were those with whom he “butted heads” and ultimately reconciled. Several of them testified to the healing that had taken place between them.
The thing is, none of us know the exact hour of our transition and need to do our best to embrace that unexpected snowfall.
Food For Thought…. Death
What comes to mind when that five-letter word passes through your visual cortex? Your response depends upon your experience with the matter. Your beliefs about an after-life certainly play into your frame of reference. When questioned, many people will say that it is not death that they fear, but rather, the prospect of dying alone and in pain. Fortunately, with the advent of hospice, which provides palliative (comfort) care, that need never happen. People are able to pass peacefully at home or in medical settings, surrounded by loved ones and the professional caregivers who provide tender loving care.
From the perspective of recognizing that we are, at our core, Spirit, how can we ever be destroyed, since Spirit is eternal? Because we have taken form as humans with the need for physical contact, we deeply miss the bodily sense of hugging our loved ones.
Although I am a hugger by inclination and habit, for the first few months following Michael’s passing, hugs of family and friends became a healing balm for me. They certainly didn’t replace those I shared with a partner of nearly thirteen years, but they reminded me that I wasn’t alone and made the grief easier to bear.
Rev. Edie Weinstein-Moser