A difficult day.
I went to visit my friend G who has had a stroke, and is in a coma. As I turned into the hospital driveway to park my car, I couldn't help but remember the last time I was there; my friend, a young mother of three, was in the last stages of breast cancer and I was one of the few she allowed to spend time with her at the end. I park the car and so far I'm okay, despite the memories of that oh-so-sad time a number of years ago.
But as I walk down the corridor toward the ICU, I see the familiar artwork on the walls and my body remembers it all: those last days and hours of C's life, the enormity of her death, the family's sorrow, and the children... I enter the ICU and G's bed is two down from where my friend passed away. It's all so real -- life, death, and the fragile hold we have on the space in between.
I spend time with G, offering kind words and a soft touch, and as I leave, I notice each patient, realizing that there but for the grace of God go I. We are all, in truth, headed for something like the ICU; we're all in line for the same bus, headed toward that destination at some point. I consider what it's like for each of the people I pass; for one, it might have been a sudden event.
For others, it may be the final stretch of a protracted illness. But regardless of the circumstances, I can imagine the monumental shifts that had to take place inside their hearts and minds to come to terms with their situation -- to be in a backless robe, wired to tubes and machines, and utterly reliant on the care of others to get them through another day.
I know it's morbid to talk about death, and those who know me will attest to the fact that I'm as sunshiney and upbeat as they come. But I have to say, I think it would do us all a world of good if we spent a little more time in the company of those whose lives have been stripped of the extras, who are facing life day by day -- or moment by moment -- rather than operating under the illusion of immortality.
I have experienced the loss of many loved ones from a young age, and I am certain that it has influenced me more than almost anything else I've gone through in my life. When we think we're going to live forever, the little things get missed; they don't matter all that much. We forget how wonderful it is to taste chocolate, or listen to a great piece of music. We lose sight of what makes our heart sing its sweetest song -- playing a game of Connect Four with our child, or feeding the ducks at the park on a sunny day.
Life really is what happens while we're busy making other plans. As easy as it is to let these platitudes roll off our tongue -- regurgitated words of wisdom from a book of quotes or an inspirational Facebook post -- it's often not until we come face to face with the absence of life that we remember its value.
So today, I am especially enjoying the aroma of the broom I picked from the side of the road up the canyon. It is so lovely, filling the house with its sweet fragrance.
For more by Susan Stiffelman, click here.
For more on death and dying, click here.
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