I talk about death and dying.*
Other than the importance of sharing our stories, the influence of death on our lives and the significance we must assign to dying well if at all possible might be the topics which most light up my eyes and increase my rate of speech.
Why this matters to my life is simple: I believe my father knew he was dying. I know my father made attempts to talk to me about his death. And, most of the time, I was too afraid to face the inevitable, preferring instead to avert my eyes and dismiss the likelihood that it would happen sooner rather than later. The thought of living the rest of my life without a dad to talk to when life was confusing or be proud of me when I accomplished one of my goals or celebrate Christmas with me was gut-wrenching. But you know what hurts worse than that, what brings me to my knees weeping some days? Knowing I missed my chance to find out my father’s wishes, to tell him all he meant to me, to ease the burden of knowledge he carried alone because no one would allow him to let them in on his secret.
The overarching purpose I assigned to my life before Papa died has become integrated, with little struggle, into the primary purpose I have given to it now. I still do not have one simple sentence to describe succinctly what that purpose is, but it involves accompanying those who are aware of the limited time they have left to live as well as the people who love those we often refer to as the dying. It involves being a safe place for people to bring their pain, their questions, their regrets, their fears, and loving them well in the moment. It involves being willing to have tough conversations, even if and when I am afraid.
As my plans for further defining and living according to this purpose take definite shape into actions, I will continue to write about death, dying, and what we can do to break the taboos surrounding both. But today I just want to start the conversation between us. To tell those of you who may need someone to listen that I am here. To tell you there is someone you can talk to when you feel like everyone else you know is tired of hearing about your pain, worries, fears, experiences, or memories. To tell you there is someone who will listen to your questions and, if possible and desired, share resources with you. To tell you someone you know, whether in person or virtually, is willing to have those conversations or sit in silence with you, as you wish.
Today, I’ll end with some of the resources I have found helpful as they related to death, dying, and living well until the very end:
Intimate Death: How the Dying Teach Us How to Live by Maria de Hennezel (Her site is in French. But I don’t like to just refer to Amazon.com for books.)
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
*I know the title of this post could come across as flippant, especially if you’ve recently experienced the horror of saying goodbye to someone you loved. Know, though, that I do not intend to at all make light of the hell you are living through in the aftermath of death.