I have a friend to whom I have been close for the past three/four years. We enjoy a regular lunch date because between bites, we consistently have much to share. We are able to settle the world’s problems over and over again. Our conversations are oriented specifically to family and to our other lives. In her other life, she was a physician as well as a wife and mom. In my other life I was a social worker as well as a wife and mom. I was also a clergyman’s wife, a rabbi’s wife. As anyone might imagine we have lots to talk about! To her credit my friend has never tried to doctor me, I would guess she learned long ago that mixing medicine with one’s social life frequently spells disaster to a friendship. We rarely speak of religion or politics for the same reason.
Now my friend is not well, she remains in her apartment in an independent living establishment. Until now it has met her needs, she has enjoyed a comfortable and independent life. She drove her car until three weeks ago, now there is oxygen. My friend accepts that, but is having great difficulty in facing the reality that her independence is fading. After 89 years of establishing that independence, it is not easy to think about giving it up. This is hard for our younger family members and friends to understand and it is difficult for us to explain. When I asked my friend, “How will you manage if you need to get up to use the bathroom during the night?” “I will just go!” she retorted while looking at me as if I had lost my mind. I hesitated to point out to her that she is unsteady; she could fall and get hurt. Her doctor does not want her alone at night. You see, she does not care she really does not care if she dies tomorrow. I fully understand.
I do not know when it happened; I do not recall when I made peace with death, when I realized that death is part of life. I do remember that my Mother, before she died said to me, “I am sorry to leave you,“ Dad had died two months earlier. “You and your brother have fine spouses, wonderful children and good lives. I am satisfied, you are well taken care of, but he needs me!” She died within two days. I have found in my own thinking when I face the future, I am not afraid as I used to be when I was young. I tell my pillow as I lay my head down each night, “it is ok if I die tonight while I sleep!”
My friend and I have discussed this and have tacitly agreed that there is no reason to hurry along the process, it is urgent to remember that each day continues to count. We are practitioners of mindfulness; we live in today and make the most of each one. According to Cicely Saunders, doctor/social worker involved with the development of the Hospice movement, ”You matter because you are, you matter to the last moment of your life.”
We hang on to that truth and keep on trucking.