I'm going deep today. The taboo subject of death has been on my mind a lot lately. Seems like we have had more than our share of friends and acquaintances either die or are in the process of dying and it has consumed a good share of my waking moments. While I'd much rather talk about life, the topic of death was something I could never talk about before I worked at hospice. My mom died suddenly and unexpectedly in her sleep back in 2001. It was shocking and hard and we got through it. It wasn't until I worked at hospice that I really understood how taboo the subject is in this country. Other places in the world treat death differently. I have not studied it much but I find it interesting. Hospice puts all their new employees through rigorous training and I remember how exhausted I was while going through it. The first time I received an email about one of our clients "dying", the word death really shook me. I've since learned that our whole culture doesn't like to use the word "died". We prefer to soften it up by saying, "oh, she passed away" or "he's no longer with us" or "they've gone to heaven".
The truth is, the moment we are born we are on a path to death. It gets more and more important to me as the clock is ticking to make the most of my life before that happens. And, it will happen. Life and death. I'm hoping mine is a long life until then but I definitely feel like I don't have as much time to waste as I used to.
I did a little free-thinking this morning around the word "life" and this is what I came up with:
ups & downs
When I tried the same exercise for the word "death", I came up short:
When I worked at hospice, I read everything I could get my hands on about the process of dying and how to spend time with someone who is dying. Reading about it and experiencing it are two different things. We recently spent a small amount of time with a friend who is in the final dying process by way of lung cancer. It was surprisingly uncomfortable and awkward. As we drove away, I felt ashamed and guilty because all I could think about was how I felt. All the things I learned when I worked at hospice were somewhere else in my brain and I didn't have time to think about it before our visit. If I could go back in time, I would do that visit over and I would hold his hand, and I'd tell him how much we love him and what a good friend he has been to Gene and I over the years. But I didn't say those things. I'm guessing the reason is I really don't want to believe he's dying and I didn't want to make him feel bad.
One of the most comforting things I read while I worked at hospice was that while visiting someone who is dying, sometimes we don't know what to say and the best we can do is provide a warm silence. I'm afraid I fell short in this instance.