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Death. A part of life. Not the good part, but definitely a part. When death is staring you in the face, as it was me in 2010, you must decide whether to deny it or embrace it. Lots of people choose to ignore the obvious, and in a very Pollyanna manner, act as if dying is not a possibility. It has been my experience that the dying desire, EVEN NEED, to talk about death. It’s the people around them who have the difficulty.
When my husband was facing death, he boldly announced one day that he prayed at night not to wake the next day. I considered the implications before I responded. After having been a chaplain for several years, I knew I should not shut him down but encourage him to talk about death. I told him that I thought I could understand – because of the how terrible he felt and the hopelessness of his disease. I told him it was hard for me to hear, but I understood. We sat there that day, in our rocking chairs, overlooking the golf course. The golfers were very much alive on the other side of the fence – laughing, cursing their bad shots, drinking beer. On our side of the fence, quiet reflection on the end of a brilliant life. We sat and he talked about his death. His fear. His anticipation. Things I would need to know when he was gone. After about 20 minutes, we both became quiet, lost in our own thoughts. Finally, I said to him, “want me to get the pillow?” He laughed and said, “No. Not yet. “
The door swung open wide to numerous conversations about death during the next two years. He gave me priceless advice for the time to come. Who to talk to about different investments, the house, the car, filing the taxes. His wisdom that I had relied upon for three decades.
I look back on that day and see what a momentous time it was– a time when we both began to process our individual futures. For him, death and eternity. For me, an eternity of alone. I treasure that day because we began to walk the path in a very intimate way. You see, nothing can be more intimate than sharing tender talks about a life that is ending, a future that will never be. Dreams now dying too. On that day, we went from picking our way carefully through sticky predictable conversations – how are you feeling today – did you sleep – what are you hungry for – and placed our feet squarely into never-before spoken chasms of fear. Facing fear reduces the challenge from insurmountable – to a hill that’s climbable. I didn’t say WANTED to climb, but a hill that must be climbed!
I had no idea the heart-break that was rushing at me. There’s no way to anticipate the loss of PRESENCE of a loved one. After John’s death on 12-12-12, I grieved. I cried daily for eight months. I cried when I got up in the morning and saw the single coffee cup. I cried when the mail came – and I was no longer Mrs. John Pass, but Ms. Diann Pass. I cried at church to be there alone. Everything changed. Sleeping alone. Eating alone. No one touched me anymore. I missed touch the most. I still do! Life as I knew it was gone – forever. In fact, as happens with lots of widows, I felt like my life was over, even though I was still breathing.
Grief – the five stages of grief. Overwhelming grief, daily grief, crushing grief, staggering grief, paralyzing grief. Those are not exactly the five stages of grief you’ve read about! But trust me, they are the real stages. They are accompanied by: who’s gonna take out the trash now, when do I buy new tires, how do I make the commode stop making that noise, and WHAT was that sound I heard in the night.
These are the thoughts and a short synopsis of the feelings and challenges of those early days. Raw. No other word sufficiently defines those first twelve months for any of us experiencing the loss of a loved one.
I don’t think that there is a short cut through grief, however, I do think that we can learn from others who have been where we are now. At a time when we feel totally lost and overwhelmed, someone else can give us a hand to take us through a few of the most confusing issues. Sometime in the future, you too will be able to walk through these same issues to help someone else.