For the last 15 months I’ve been working near death and dying. Working at a hospice brings me face to face with a wide range of feelings and sensations. I witness people in agony, physical and spiritual; some in quiet resolve, others struggling with hope. They reveal a myriad ways of responding to loss … and I’m wondering how all this is shaping my own understanding of living and dying, my own relationship to the inevitable.
A distant relative phoned from Germany a couple of weeks ago. She’s in her eightieth year, a widow without children, the last in a line of bakers and grape growers: her mother, husband, brother-in-law, and sister have all died in the house where she was born and continues to live. Surrounded by memories and memorabilia, she spoke of being lebensmüde, tired of living. Not long ago I might have felt awkward hearing such a declaration, but this time I responded in ways that took us from tears to laughter, from hiding the topic to facing it head on. We talked about grieving, about loneliness, and the desire to be reunited with those who have died.
“No mysteries are more profound and confounding than loss, suffering, ending, illness, and death,” writes Thomas Moore.
The death of someone close reminds us of what is important and may give us back our soul, but still the cruelties of life seem senseless. They tarnish our optimism and challenge our faith, and yet, oddly, they retain the power to make us ever more human. They do so only when we give them attention and speak for, ritualize, and keep in memory events that hurt, confuse, and keep us in the dark. …
We need to respect the mysteries of death without understanding them and to express our confusion and pain so as to create a communal and honest humanity.
Is there someone in your vicinity who might benefit from an honest conversation? Or yourself, what’s weighing on your mind in this regard? Who might you speak with? When will you do this?
source: Moore, T. (1996). The education of the heart. HarperCollins, p.251.