I’ve been remembering an image that brings me to my knees with sorrow and pain and worry and longing and dread. The picture of his face has been prevalent in my mind for the last several days — I don’t know why. Perhaps a story I read, a video I watched, a memory that won’t go away.
When my father was in the hospital for the last time, a few days had passed since he had been flown by life-flight — he was stable and coherent and… alive, he was alive. The doctor made arrangements to meet with the whole family to discuss his case — in a waiting room down the hall from my father’s room. I thought this was odd that the doctor wouldn’t include my father in this discussion… I didn’t think it should be a mystery to my dad. The waiting room was filled when the doctor arrived and we all watched him and waited. He explained that my father was alive but it was only temporary, he would die. In a few days, in a week, at some point in the near future, he would die.
I can remember when I was about 7 or 8 years old, there had been a couple of significant deaths in my family at that point — death was a mystery and it was scary and it was unknown. But… it made the people who were alive so sad, so alone, so lost. I would lay in my bed at night and cry thinking about my own death, cry silently and think about death and how scared I was of it. It was the unknown. It was the sadness. It was the finality. I would lay there thinking… I wanted out of that particular journey.
It’s occurred to me recently… my fear is not of death. My fear is not about the unknown. My fear is not about leaving people behind… they will carry on when my time comes (hopefully when I’m 103), just like I’ve carried on when I’ve watched someone I love take their last breath. But, I think, I’m more afraid of what will be left. Who will comfort the people I love when I can’t anymore? Who will take away their sadness? Who will make them red velvet cake and buy new tires for their car and give them financial advice and talk about books and call on their birthday and hug them… who will hug them?
After the doctor was through talking to us about how my father was going to die, my mother and I went into his room and sat down. He never looked at me. His gaze remained on my mother the whole time. His lip quivered in that way it does when we are just about to cry and the thought of crying is taking over our face and our body and we can’t control it. His eyes were red and bloodshot with tears that he was trying so desperately to not let fall down his cheeks. His hand reached out for hers. And there we all sat, in silence — pondering an imminent death.
I remember that look and his quivering lip. I remember thinking he was afraid and there was nothing I could do. I remember thinking I just wanted to opt out of that particular journey. But… that option didn’t exist, so I was there…until the end, in every moment. And I sometimes fear my children will one day be standing over me, seeing my quivering lip, wishing they could comfort me — not knowing what to say, pondering an imminent death. I wonder if they’ll wish they could opt out of that particular journey. I’ll want to tell them to stay there, in the moment… every step of their journey, because sometimes the journey seems too hard and sometimes I scream at the top of my thoughts, “I want out!” — but the mystery of this journey looks better when I stay connected to it, unveiling it myself — a little at a time.