I have been caring for a woman for the past few weeks who is terminal. She is vibrant, brilliant and an independent trailblazer in both her career and personal life. Her smile can light up a room and her sense of humor makes me blush sometimes, secretly wishing that I could be as half as witty as her.
She is dying, slowly, day by day, growing weaker and weaker as evidenced by her slow shuffling walk and long naps during the day. Her loved ones share that she ran circles around everyone and that would outpace most with her long strides and confident posture.
She is ready to go, she confides in me, but her body has other plans. The dying process is a mystery to me and I often wonder why do some pass away quickly while others seem to linger for some reason, I can only begin to understand.
My mind wants to try to figure out what exactly is going on with the body physically, but my heart guides me most days now and my heart goes out to this beautiful soul as they wait. Time seems to slow down dramatically during this time.
I ran into a friend recently who has a close friend who is dying. She confided in me that she was afraid to call or text because she didn’t know what to do or say, so she hasn’t called yet. I know that feeling well and feel very protective of the dying now, my impulse was to give unsolicited advise. I placed my hand over my heart and took a breath.
I immediately thought of a time when I was driving my dad back and forth to his radiation appointments. We always listened to music at my house growing up and it was no different in the car. He loved Wille Nelson and the song “Always on My Mind” came on and we sang and shed a few tears. There was a silence in the car afterwards, creating a space that I let slip away regrettably.
I wished that I was brave enough to ask him why that was his favorite song. I honestly did the best I could in supporting both my parents at the end of life, but do wish that I had the tools to hold space a bit better. I was uncomfortable with the silence and I filled the space with empty words. Looking back, I wished I would have leaned in a little more.
I encouraged my friend to reach out to her friend who is dying and allow her friend to decide to reply or not, at least she could say that she tried to connect. I often find that people don’t know what to do or say, so they don’t do anything. We wait, and the moment passes, perhaps waiting a bit too long. I reminded my friend that we don’t get a do-over with the dying. This is it, we are never going to get that time back.
Lean in my friends. I encourage you to be brave. Tell all of your people how much you love them and hug them a bit longer today. Tomorrow is never promised. You never know how much your words and presence is deeply felt and that love is the only thing we truly take with us in the end.