Friday, September 17, 2010
Famous Last Words
Most people who have lost someone close to them replay their last moments together over and over in their mind. Sometimes it's in a favorable way, thankful for the chance to say all they needed to say to each other. The survivor may be grateful they were able to care for them, or settle differences before the death. Some relationships are never fully appreciated by either party until death is imminent. The "now or never" aspect casts a new, urgent light on what matters most, and priorities become clear.
Other times we think of everything we did wrong, they did wrong, or what we wish we could change. Often when death is unexpected, comments considered mundane at the time can turn out to be their much-repeated "last words". Those of us left behind can easily read too much into them, and imbue them with importance far beyond the truth. This kind of thinking can torture us.
If I were able to choose, I would like to die like my father-in-law. He had time to wind down, plan and prepare, and then ultimately call everyone to his bedside to say what he wanted to say. Hospice assisted his wife and children as they kept him at home, until he went Home. He was fully present, and spoke to his family, (often asking to speak with one grandchild at a time), neighbors and co-workers with both grace and humor. It was beautiful. He asked for a taste of ice cream, a favorite hymn to be sung, and for one last shave before slipping away late one night.
The problem with this, of course, is we don't get to choose. The obvious solution is to live each day as if it was our last. Can you imagine, though? What if everyone you saw hugged you goodbye as if they would die that night? What if every phone conversation took an hour because of all the "one last thing"s that needed to be said? It's not possible to live that way.
I suppose acceptance is the only answer. What's the alternative, anyway? If we are to live fully, we have to let go. Let go of regrets, what ifs, fears, and yes, even those endless replays of our loved ones' last moments. It's easy (and understandable) to see our lives through the filter of how it would be had they not died, but it robs us of the joy we could be experiencing.
This is your new normal. It's permanently different, and it's not fair, but it's your life. How you live it is up to you. There's a freedom in feeling grateful for the person you loved, but being able to move forward anyway.
I'll leave you with the last words of Karl Marx, to his housekeeper who sat by his bed waiting to write them down for posterity-
"Go on, get out! Last words are for fools who haven't said enough."