No, I’m not. Don’t look at me like that!
Circumstances have just put the issue into my head recently. First, because I live with a 90-year-old mother, a 17-year-old little dog, and have a 93-year-old dad in a group home with Alzheimer’s and in Hospice. No matter what, I know the next few years will involve death of some of the people and creatures close to me. And that’s OK.
Death isn’t optional, although it doesn’t really seem possible when it comes to me. I am beginning to realize that it isn’t death that’s the issue at all. It’s how you face it.
I had/have a friend, Ruth. She was in her 60’s to 70’s when I met her, with a lovely figure and always dressed to the nines. She was in my bridge group at work, an extremely savvy secretary. It was years before I heard her full story… from someone else. She had been married, and retired, when her husband developed cancer. He fought it and with the medical bills they ended up using their entire retirement savings before he died. So in her late 60’s she went back to work. A tough deal, but you’d never know it when you met her.
Our bridge group was close – meeting at our homes and even taking a bridge trip or two. When we found out that Ruth too had developed cancer we rallied around her. Even after she couldn’t come to our bridge meetings anymore, moving to her daughter’s home at the last, regular phone calls and emails to and from the group and to and from me kept her close. She died as she lived, with grace and no regrets. In one of my last chatty emails which her daughter read to her, I let her know that I hoped to be as successful at leaving life as she was being. I’m glad I had a chance to tell her that while I still knew for sure that she was listening.
Now the brother of a friend of mine is dealing with stage four lung cancer. He is only 39, was never a smoker, and is an active athlete and coach. He is fighting it with every breath and every step he takes, and I firmly believe that this is the right thing for him to do. He keeps us informed thanks to the Internet, and his journal entries and photos have made him into a friend for me too. I seriously admire his sister, and now him. I hope and pray that he survives to live a long life and die of something else eventually.
Now here’s something else I am sure of. If the time comes that he has to give up on life, this man will face death with the same courage, faith and love that he is using to fight for his life. The two are not incompatible. As Ruth found a way to go on living without regrets and was willing to die with grace, he will find a way to handle whatever life hands him. I see it in every word he writes, how he talks of his family and friends, and his belief that we are handed whatever we receive for a reason, whether we understand it or not.
There are people I’ve lost whose death diminished me. I will miss my best friend Jeff Mason for the rest of my life. There are others that drift through my mind that I recall with a smile or a sigh. But as for myself, I hope when I go people will say I handled my departure with grace, like Ruth. There is no better epitaph.