Monday, August 29, 2011

Stories and Death

Image from here
I have a generous friend. She loves to give gifts and cherish those around her. She makes soap and needlepoint, collects old books and loves to watch movies. She has colourful flowers tattooed on her ankles, and wears eye-catching shoes.

Seven weeks ago her husband died and she is busying herself with sorting collected treasures. She is sharing stories of the objects she discovers, the boxes she delivers to the op shop, the friends who come and remember with her. She lays the story of his failing life out before me, too. As she talks, I see the strength in her. Telling is a balm. A millimetre of smoothed protection from the burn of loss.

We meet on Mondays and each one marks another week since he crept away from his worn, overwhelmed body. Today, she smiled just a bit easier, and the shoulder weight of his long illness is lifting. She asked about my baby, and we marvelled the passing time as I said, "He's two and a half."

It is easy to spectate in the story of death. To visit someone who is dying, and expectation makes the room into a mausoleum. To forget to participate in the mingled sad joy of still being alive. I imagine cancer-ridden friends seeing the speechless sorrow in my eyes as I meet their gaze. Am I sad because I do not know what to say? Am I that self-absorbed? The pain of others refracted in my lenses, filtered to become my own pain.

I listen as she shares the story they had hidden. He feared those sympathetic spectators so he made sure they never knew. He dreaded having to bear their distress as well as his failing health. Her story is unadorned, love-worn and hopeful. She carves out life without him - carefully but purpose-gripped. She tells, as he did not, because she must. He lives in her story.

Her story changes me. I vow not to spectate. Not to let my uncomfortable sadness darken the process of dying. In real life, death is not purely dour or hallowed. The howling sadness of death is born out of the shared enjoyment of love and friendship. The laughter and being understood are the absence we miss. It is because we live, that we seek these in the aftermath of loss.

Sharing with Emily at Imperfect Prose,

13 comments:

rain said...

this is so poignant. sometimes as we go about our days, death seems so far away and we never know who might be standing right beside us, shouldering loss, and if only we could hold out ourselves like candle flame to candle wick, drawing strength from the dying and the light. thank you for sharing these words.

nic said...

stark and beautiful. thank you for this, for the wisdom of aiming not to spectate, but to dig our hands and hearts in deep, to be involved even in death's story.

kkrige said...

This touched me. My husband lived with cancer for 2 1/2 years before passing away. He always wanted people to see him as he was & not as his diagnosis. He was still the same, yet changed irrevocably. Most people have a hard time not feeling & giving sorrow in that light though. When one is dying, every moment is precious though. You are alive & living every moment until you are gone. I think that is a lesson that I took away from my journey. A lovely post. Good for you for being a good friend & listening. That is the best thing you can offer right now.

owlmeetsfairy said...

We all wanted to be view for who we are, so its only kind that we do the same for others, illness aside. Not to spectate, wise words, thanks

JulzVP said...

oh how I wish I could get rid of these tendencies in my own heart. how I wish I could learn to love without being so worried about protecting my heart.

HopeUnbroken said...

great words, great reminders. difficult to practice, but we need to find a way, somehow, to get beyond ourselves.
thanks for the sharing.

happygirl said...

To be there for a friend is to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Bless you as you bless your friend.

Sadee Schilling said...

Wow. Thank you for sharing this--the strength of your friend is inspiring, and her bravery to tell those stories is beautiful--as is your bravery in listening to them and facing the fact that life can sometimes be SO HARD!

emily wierenga said...

this is exquisite. the details, the emotion... so powerful. xo

Kath said...

Thanks for all your encouraing comments.
Kath

sophg said...

This is beautiful Kath. Can I share it?

Jen said...

Death and grief and leaving -- so much we do not understand we grasp at straws and do our best to comfort, console, and really see. It is hard to do it in an authentic way, sometimes. What a beautiful piece that makes one think about what really matters.

Kath said...

soph, of course you can. It'd be a pleasure.
Kath