I don’t remember the last time I died. But I sure as hell remember the last time I attended a death.
She could no longer speak. But I sensed her need. Even though I was asleep in the bedroom and she was in her power wheelchair in the living room. She needed to go to the bathroom.
Subconsciously, I had become attuned to her needs. It was something beyond words or sounds. To this day I’m not quite sure when she lost her voice. I remember our interactions as clear conversations even though she had completely lost the ability to speak months before.
Sometime between midnight and three in the morning I woke up. She needed help. I know it was in this time window because by five she was gone. And I had slept even after wheeling her into the bathroom and back out. I remember quietly whispering into her ear as I pushed her along: “You can go now, your father will be there. We’ll be okay.”
It was all she needed to hear. I know I slept for awhile afterwards but I have no recollection of where nor do I remember how I came to be on the telephone with her doctor asking if I could give her another dose of morphine. I know her mother was there because she had urged me to call and she would be there for the rest of her daughter’s life. She was a nurse and she understood these things. Even if she had never in a million years imagined she’d witness her own daughter’s passing.
I can’t tell you how I know. But I can tell you when I came to understand. I was thirteen years old. I don’t know what happened to bring it on but I remember laying in bed and imploring the power that is: “Please don’t make me come back here again.” And I understood, at the core of my being, that life is not what it seems.
There is pain here. And soul searing indifference. Why is that, I wonder? And I realize it’s because people are scared. Of losing what they have. So scared that they will destroy anything and anyone in order to hold on to it. And yet, in the end, we lose it all anyway. The only thing that has any lasting value at all, is love.
Just like I don’t know how my wife communicated her needs to me, I don’t know how I know this truth. But I know it as if the Universe itself whispered it in my ear.
To fear death is like fearing the sunset. We have no control over either. And to pretend that we do is to live our lives in a state of delusion.
My wife was afraid of death. But not for the reasons stated above. She had no ties to the material world. She had two driving forces in her life. The work she did and the children we raised.
She spent her entire working life as a helper. She ran community residence programs for the mentally ill. She advocated for, and made the lives of, so many disenfranchised souls, less tortuous. She understood these people and the difficult lives they were living. Not because she was one of them, but because her father was clinically depressed himself. She was raised in the chaos of mental illness and spent her life trying to improve the lives of people like her father.
If there’s a lesson in all of that for me, and most of us in the world, it’s this: People are NOT fully responsible for the life situation in which they find themselves. It’s a lie we tell ourselves to avoid taking any responsibility for our fellow human beings.
It’s also a lie my wife had no intention of telling herself. Like nurses called to the occupation, she came here to serve. And, like one who is doing what she came here for, she loved life and she didn’t want to leave. Which makes me wonder why she had to suffer such a horrifying death herself?
I can come to no other conclusion than that of unveiling to me the interconnection of all of our lives. And the impulse to write about it. To whisper it into the ears of as many other humans as possible.
Be not afraid. There are helpers. We are all helpers. Each in our own subtle and unique way. All we need to do is to discover and embrace our destiny.
Thank you for sharing your time with me.