Two of my friends have died this month, so I am taking time to reflect on death. It is inevitable—the natural end to life, yet we encounter it with shock and surprise. I confess that I don't know the answers to our questions about death and dying and am as shocked and surprised as anybody else when someone passes. Why?
Once, when I was in a meeting about disability services, I commented that we need to have transition services in place for when the parent-caregiver of a disabled adult dies. The leader dismissed my comment by saying, “Yes, they might die.”
I countered this dismissal with a promise. “No! I can promise you with one hundred percent accuracy that every, single parent-caregiver will die!”
My remarks were ignored, almost as if I was being obscene. During my time working with state disability services, they never set up a protocol for dealing with this transition. It would not take much to have a page in a file listing people to contact, resources and an action plan for when the caregiver of a client dies. It would serve the client to have a plan in place. It would save the state time and money to have a plan in place, yet this didn’t happen.
What is it that causes us to look upon death with so much denial that we cannot make a plan and put it in a file? For believers in many faiths, death is just a passage to eternity—a return to our real home. Yet we want to deny that death happens. Why?
I think the answer lies in our own grief. It hurts so much to be separated from someone we love. I think the grief of separation effects both the dying and the survivors.
Personally, I see death itself as a pleasant passage to what lies ahead. Still, I am reluctant to leave behind my loved ones. I feel compassion for their sense of loss and grief, so I grieve with them and fight to cling to life.
Clinging to life was a choice and challenge for me during and after my stroke and during my cancer treatments. Living involved some tough choices and suffering. It hasn’t been easy. In addition to the pain of illness, I was well aware of the presence of total love and peace just around the corner that we call death. Turning the corner would have been so much easier than fighting to live. I chose to live partly because of my love for my family, but mostly because of a sense that I have unfinished business here.
During my struggle, I started writing Lies That Bind. In a sense, it was the story about my struggle to live, and the conflict between my desire to be with the One who loves me unconditionally and my attachment to those in this imperfect world. This is not a sugary sweet story about life and death. It is a passionate story about love. I came to understand death as part of our passionate life love-story.
I used adultery as the central theme in Lies That Bind because our society treats the topic of death much as it treats the topic of adultery. We know adultery is a betrayal. I think under much of our grieving, we see death as a betrayal. Our loved one has abandoned us.
Just as Jake and Celia in Lies That Bind needed to unravel the lies that separated them, we need to unravel the lies that cause us undue grief when someone dies. Death is not abandonment. We need to remember that our loved one still loves us and we can still love them. Yes, we will miss our loved ones. Still, they have made a natural passage whether we think it was timely or not. We need to learn how to deal with this transition, to have a plan in our file.
How do we grieve? How do we find wholeness when part of our life has been ripped away? The answers to these questions will be different for each person, but we need to answer them. The answers to our questions about grieving involve telling our-selves the truth and finding truth. I sense that the answers involve living our passionate life love-story and recognizing that love is the eternal spark that each life passes on to the next generation.