I visited my friend yesterday and spent the afternoon and evening with her.
She is the Palliative Care unit at the hospital. It appears to be a matter of weeks, at the longest. It could be less.
She is on oxygen at all times and her breathing is very laboured. Watching her doing her puffers is painful. She can’t inhale beyond a light inhale and yet it takes all her strength to do . Exhaling is worse because it just looks like she can’t exhale.
She can only speak in short sentences and that is tiring. She prefers to listen.
And, she doesn’t talk about it…. She has “pneumonia” and she will be in the hospital for “a while” is all she will acknowledge. That is very difficult but that is how she has chosen to procede. It is up to those around her to support her decision and respect it.
It is hard because it is sort of like a scene from the movie where one person is slipping over a precipice and is reaching out for the other person, and there is the mutual recognition that at some point, the falling person, not just WILL, but MUST let go.
We hadn’t seen each other for almost… may be more, actually… 30 years. No… I just counted. It is 33 years. We first got together again last summer.
I intend to come down here to see her every weekend for as long as it takes.
I have to say, though, that being here has given me, not just the chance to be with her, but the chance to get to know her boyfriend and meet and talk with her friend. Her brother and his wife came, as well as her ex-husband, with whom she is still very close.
I hope it will make us all feel just a bit less useless to be able to join together and support her and each other. Of course, they are there full-time and I will only be there on weekends and maybe only on Saturdays as where I am staying is about 2+ hours away from the city she is in.
Back in 1999, the family we sponsored from Kosovo (who are Muslim) had a baby and I was so pleased and privileged to be able to be there and actually assisted in the birth.
Two years later, the same couple had a baby which was born very premature and just about when she should have been born, full-term, she died. A number of us assisted the family in seeing them through that. That included helping with the process of washing and laying out the little body.
In Western culture, we have lost touch with the nitty-gritty of life and death. While we now have families involved and present when a baby is born, we “leave it to the professionals” to deal with death and dying and the after death formalities.
Having met with and experienced the Muslim burial practices, where the community simply pitches in and does what we pass on to funeral home employees, it gave me an insight into what we in “Christian” culture (I use quotation marks because it is largely in cultures which are Christian where we have doe so) have lost in backing away from. Where once a person died at home with the family surrounding them, where family or friends or neighbours came and washed the body, and where the body was laid out in the parlour or kitchen, we now are so isolated from death and dying that we actually find death MORE difficult to deal with.
Further, we have lost the knowledge and cultural experience of seeing people through the process of dying and seeing each other through the process of losing someone.
It is what we, as humand beings should do… That is part of love.
On the long drive back from the city my friend is in, I was listening to the CBC.
When I first turned it on, it was Randy’s Vinyl Tap. Which is the program I often listen to on my way out to the gigs by my friends. Being so far from home in unfamiliar territory and alone in the car, it was almost life having old friends in the car.
After that, was A Propos which introduces Anglophones to Francaphone culture and music in Canada. The host, Jim Corcoran, had translated the lyrics of a number of songs to enable his listeners to connect with the French songs. He read the lyrics to “Poussière d’or” (Gold Dust) by Jérôme Minière. The words which I have asked Jim Corcoran for a copy of talked about how dying and birth teaches us and that that the dying and newborns gift us in sharing their journey.
This is a truth that Buddhism teaches…
Death, whatever your belief or non-belief in “what happens after”, is a journey. Part of that journey we travel with the dying and the rest they do on their own. Neither of us knows the rest of the journey… The living will never know the part of the journey continued by the dying person and the dying person will never know the rest of our journey.
That finaly part of dying… and Death are the only things we do truly on our own.