My neighbor is about to die, I’m told. I never had the chance to know her – she has faced major health challenges since long before I became her neighbor, and had little opportunity to mingle in the block parties and kids’ activities that swirled around us when our families were younger. Her husband is a dear, sweet man who seems the doting husband. They’ve been together a very long time.
It’s a sad time and, I imagine, seems otherworldly to her family – they know in their hearts it’s time for her to leave, but cannot imagine life without her. The myriad worries and decisions about her health which have been a constant for 30+ years will no longer be part of their daily concern. The comfort, care, love and guidance she provided for so many years will be consigned to memory. They lose their mother, their wife, their grandmother. What a hole that leaves to be stitched back together somehow.
This kind of loss happens every day, but that fact provides little solace.
As a young person, I thought of death only in the abstract, until my paternal grandfather was suffering with cancer. It was 1979, or thereabouts. My Grampa had been sick for about a year and the time had come, I felt, for me to pray for a swift end to his suffering. I prayed daily for a week or two that he be taken from us in his sleep. I remember my last visit to him in the hospital – all the family was in and out of his room that weekend and I waited until everyone took a break, then snuck in to lean over Grampa’s bed, look into his eyes, and whisper “I love you”. I’d never said that to him before and it was perhaps both the most difficult and the most natural sentence ever uttered by me until then. He looked back at me with tears in his eyes and whispered something I could not hear. But I understood that he loved me and was saying goodbye.
Death evokes feelings of sadness and loss that may remain forever to some degree, but with lessons provided by the missing loved one to make life richer. Lessons good and bad, stories filled with love, sweetness, and humor, examples of how to be our best selves. The loss is enormous, but the memories a gift to be cherished and shared.