Image from hereI 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,