Saturday, April 03, 2010

It wasn't unpleasant.

My mom phoned me this week to let me know that a church member (who opened her home to our small congregation when we didn't have a place to meet, and who has been battling pancreatic cancer for about the last year) had been told by her doctor that the end was probably near. My mom went to visit her on Wednesday, and suggested that I send her a card.

On Thursday I forgot all about the card until evening and it was too late. So yesterday after work, I bought a card, wrote a note inside, addressed the envelope, and then was suddenly freaked out by the fear it wouldn't be delivered in time. So I called my mom and told her so. She said, simply, "Then take it to her." This freaked me out even more. Not surprisingly, I'm uncomfortable with dying. The image of the last days of my husband's uncle, who also had pancreatic cancer, are still vivid in my mind. I remember his eyes looking into mine in those last hours, and it was as if his soul had already been in transition. I don't know how else to describe it.

So I called my husband to ask his opinion. He said, "Deliver it yourself." So I called a co-worker who always gives good advice, and he gave me permission to not go. Oddly enough, his contrasting opinion is what gave me the courage to drive to her home and visit her.

I'm glad I did. She sat up in her bed while I visited. And though she was a shadow of her former self, she was in good spirits - whether for my benefit or her own, I'm not sure. She seemed to genuinely appreciate my being there. And her last words to me were, "I'll be fine. I'll see you someday. Either here, or somewhere else."

It's strange how I have very often had the intention of comforting someone else, and I was the one who ended up being comforted. Like everyone else, I suppose, I've always had a fear of dying. Facing it seems to take the sting out.

Afterward, since it was right on the way home, I went to visit my Aunt and Uncle, both of whom have recently dealt with huge medical issues. My Uncle loves to talk, and is always thrilled when new ears show up. He told me (not for the first time) about how he is allergic to wasp stings. He discovered it while they were building their house. He said he began going into anaphylactic shock, and thought to himself, "'Well, I'm dying.' And it wasn't unpleasant."

So maybe it's not. For those fortunate enough to not die painfully, maybe it's like being wrapped in a blanket of peace.

As I drove home afterward, I was suddenly aware of what felt like the weight of an arm across my shoulders. I've had this experience before, of feeling as if someone has put their arms around me. Then I felt a tingling on top of my head - almost like a ruffling of my hair - and it was so intense that I reached up and scratched my head. I know I'm a bit strange to think so, but it felt as if my dad was saying, "I'm proud of you."


Urban Cynic said...

That was a very moving thing to read; since I was young I've always been fascinated by death; probably since I discovered that nobody likes to talk about it & nobody knows what happens. I think about it quite a lot; maybe so that it won't be a shock when it happens & maybe because it's always so close all the time.

I was fortunate enough to be at my Great Grandmothers side when she passed away; her sister, my mother & I sat vigil & the other 2 talked for hours about her life & all the things that happened to her & their memories of past events. She never woke up, but when they spoke about her abusive first husband, she murmured restlessly as if she could hear.

In the night I needed to sleep & I knew somehow that it was ok to, as she had always said that she did not want to die in the dark. When I woke up after dawn & all the talking was done, she decided to leave. I am so very grateful that I had been allowed to stay to witness this very personal final parting of a woman I loved so much. All the men had left but the women had seen it through.

I was very touched by that lady's parting words to you; although I'm an Atheist, I somehow believe that we do meet again. Thank you for sharing this story with us. x

Simon said...

Though I won’t know until I try it, I think I’d find it uncomfortable to have loved ones sitting around me as I die, particularly if it’s a painful and protracted process: I’d prefer emotionally uninvolved doctors and nurses to be present. Naturally I’d prefer it to be quick and painless, where it wouldn’t matter either way.

Marie said...

My Dad got into a motorcycle accident when he was younger (hit by a car) and he was in a coma for weeks. He said that he felt like he was wrapped in black velvet & that it was the most peaceful feeling ever. He said after that he wasn't afraid of dying.

My Grandma had surgery for a broken ankle & her heart stopped in the middle of the operation. She said that she felt warm & comforted too.

I have never been afraid OF dying, but I'm terrified of HOW I will die. In my sleep? Ok. Plane crash, shark attack, anything like that...not ok.