Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Sitting with Dying

This blog isn't about the dying we sometimes see in birth, which is certainly painful. I have been present for the still births and deaths of some babies, and this is tragic.

Rather, I would like to reflect upon the experience I had sitting with a friend tonight who is close to leaving this earth. She is not a friend I saw every day, or even someone I've known for a long time, but she is someone I connected very deeply with, and whom I have kept in touch with over the period of a few years.

I found out she was ill about a year and a half ago, and called her to tell her I had heard about it. She was really positive she'd make a full recovery, and was doing great. We continued to talk on occasion, about life and death, always making plans to get together, and always getting caught up in the busy-ness of our own lives. You never really think time is going to run out.

I found out from a mutual friend of ours a couple months ago, that quite suddenly she had taken a turn for the worse, and was potentially looking at facing death. This weekend I met up with another mutual friend I'll call V, and she confirmed that this lady was indeed leaving us, and soon. In fact, V said if I came to visit, it was likely she wouldn't even recognize me, her illness was so advanced. I asked her if she thought it was okay if I came to visit, and she said "of course... she loves you! Just come and hang out." So tonight I went.

When I arrived at V's house first, I was devastated, because she met me at the door in tears. I thought I was too late. But V was just expressing sadness at the impending loss. We took a cab. She warned me our friend was now like a baby, that she hadn't talked for awhile, and needed help getting around for simple things, like getting to the bathroom. But I found myself very very blessed to have arrived on a night when she was lucid, and able to speak. I could hear her familiar voice, coming from the bathroom as she spoke to her mother.

I went downstairs for awhile until she was finished in the bathroom, and then took a breath for courage and went back up to her room. And there was my lovely friend, lying in bed. Her appearance was certainly altered...but still the beautiful face I know and love. She looked hard at me through eyes hazed, and like always, I was struck by how searching her gaze is. She has always dug for authenticity. That is her essence, and illness has not touched that. Tonight I was grateful for my experience with birth, because it has made me comfortable with intense physical and emotional expression. I could mirror back to her what I do with my birthing ladies, which is absolute acceptance for their experience, however they need to do it. I am confident my friend found no fear or pity in my eyes, only love, presence, and acceptance. She was absolutely safe with me to do whatever might happen, whether it be vomit, cry, yell in pain, whatever. Her eyes filled with tears and dripped down her nose. What she wanted to do was remember, relate, tie up our experience together in her mind. It was healing for us both.

My friend feels her emotions deeply. She gets frustrated with how heavy her body feels. She cannot eat. She is in pain. There is no inclination or ability to swallow feelings, to play games for anyone. There just isn't time. People say there is no dignity in dying, or in giving birth, but I don't feel that way. I find there is a serene beauty that comes when someone is living on this edge. Everything has broken down, and everything has become coloured by pain, even isolated by it. When someone in this situation can be held with acceptance and love and know there is no shame in where they are, they are free to just be...to live as presently as possible until there isn't any life anymore, no matter what control their body takes from them.

To feed her liquid from a spoon, to tend to her, was an honour. To have her even remember me at this late stage is a gift whose worth I cannot even express. When she is kissed or has her hand held, she smiles so sweetly, taking it all in. Her loved ones are there constantly, and she is surrounded by support. If she can take anything with her when she goes, it will be the incredible vibration of love that encircles and permeates her.

The atmosphere in the room is one of peace. Like during labour, it has a timeless quality....even though the person in the room dancing with this force is unpredictable and often very intense, the periphery and spaces are serene. When a human being comes in, they do it on waves, and the energy is of growing momentum, crescendo, then birth. When one is dying, it's like the waves of intensity swell in, and the person is drawn back a little farther as each wave recedes, instead of closer, as in birth.


Strangely, I did not feel overwhelmed by a desire to bawl, like I thought I would. I just felt so much joy for the gift of these moments we got to spend together. Who knows what ANY moment brings? I see her family suffering, and am deeply sad for how hard this is on them. This is never easy. We as human beings are so attached. This is our thing. We are attached to our forms and accomplishments, everything that makes up our identity and environment. It is the attachment to these forms that causes us such sorrow when they're lost. For that I am filled with grief for the soon to be loss of my friend and for the loss her family will suffer. But for her, once she sheds these attachments once and for all, she is without suffering, without limitation. She is free. And knowing that, my heart is lighter.

My friend fell asleep before we said goodnight officially. I didn't want to hog her from the many loved ones who wanted to spend time with her too. So, without any defining final moments, I left. I don't know if I'll see her again. I left her family my number, and if there is any reason she asks to see me or anything I can do, I will surely go. But I think we did we did what we needed to do. We wrapped up our friendship in a beautiful collage of memories, and celebrated our dance together on this earth. I cannot express how glad I am for having had that opportunity.

Hug your loved ones tonight. This gift of life right here and right now is a precious thing.