by Mary Catherine Cochran
The news never slips in quietly like the fog, it comes all slamming doors and shrieks of fear and fast forward motion and you remain still, and pale- the quiet eye of the storm that rages around you. Reality shifts in that moment- you can feel it within. The happy-ever-after narrative that you have written for your life has changed and your stillness is the pause between the old story and the new story, not yet written.
In the face of death and dying, how do you continue to live? In the face of learning that you will soon lose your husband or wife or mother or father or anyone that has imprinted your very soul- how do you learn to walk them home? The answer is simple: one step at a time. There is bitterness and confusion and anger and all of the five stages that Elizabeth Kubler Ross writes about in “On Death and Dying”. But, there is also joy. Great, soaring joy. The storm spins itself out and you acclimate to the remaining clouds. In some ways, facing the inevitability of death makes the ordinary moments of life take on deeper significance. We gain an appreciation for that which surrounds us and a deeper compassion and connection to those who stand with us. Our priorities change. We realize that things can no longer be postponed- there is no more time- and we begin to live in the moment.
There are no hard and fast rules on how to live with the end in mind, but I found these things to be true for me:
- Dying well is a part of living well
- Honor the opportunity to walk your loved one home.
- Live this part of your life without regrets.
- Nourish a sense of humor- you’d be surprised at how funny the end of the road can be.
- Take long walks together outside under the trees or along the river
- Invite others along for the journey- the experience will help them when it’s their turn.
- And finally, embrace the sorrow as well as the joy. “Because without the bitter, baby, the sweet ain’t as sweet.”
Have you been on that walk? What are the things that are true for you?