Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Dealing with a friend's death

     Often it is said that the dying has uncanny ways of teaching the rest of us how to live life.
     I lost a friend recently to complications from brain cancer. It’s not the first time, nor will it be the last time, that I assume a comforter role.
    Some times I have been involved deeply – my sister passed after lymphoma – and it was a daily struggle of ups and downs. Other times, I have been there from a distance giving support.  Visits. Cards. Prayers.
     You have loss, too. Cancer doesn’t escape any of us. It shows no regard to age, circumstances or gender.
     Each death hurts. It is draining emotionally hanging in there with a dying loved one during the transitioning period, and there is nothing that can be done other than dealing with the reality of the situation.
     My friend had one personality trait that I greatly admire. She laughed despite her adversities. And the last couple years were tough for her family and her, too. She tried all sorts of treatments, and there would be a glimmer of hope temporarily before it would be snuffed out after another CAT scan.
     I sighed. I would deliver up more encouragement and often, just be silent, giving her the opportunity to share her stories and feelings without interruption or comment from me.

    Listening is the best way to be present with a person lying ill.
    Once my friend said that she would make sure that the doctors and her would laugh together all the way to the end no matter what. She didn’t like morbidity one bit. That was right after she tried an experimental approach to keeping bad cells at bay, which did give her more time on earth. Frankly, she saved that moment from being awkward for me when she chuckled in her lovely way while I sat nearby.
     I can hear that belly laugh right now and the smile that comes over her face. She will be with me – and the rest of her close friends and family- forever.
     My friend’s infectious spirit might just have been the legacy she left behind. I hope that we take her advice and lighten up a bit. She’s winking at us from wherever she is right now, and experimenting with a new recipe.
     It is hard to walk the path with someone facing adversity. When you are not part of the immediate family or inner circle of friends, you feel at a loss over what is the appropriate thing to do. In my opinion, what comes naturally works, as you are only one part of a community of folks lifting the person up. That teamwork is important.
     Looking outward beyond your own needs, and offering compassion is a true gift, which takes a lifetime of practice.  

     I remember the time my friend told me that she just had no energy after a round of chemo treatment. It reminded me of advice someone had given my sister, and I passed it on: Don’t sluff around in your slippers. Put on your shoes.
     I shared it with my friend in hopes that it might help her. It must have done the trick.
     When I would see her after that, she would say, “I put on my shoes all week when I really wanted to throw in the towel and give up.”
     We’d laugh. My sister would be glad, too, that she helped a fellow person through the dark days offering lightness to her step.
     You might say that my friend was an unassuming person with a strong religious nature. She didn’t care for big fusses. She planned a moving celebration of life after her death with special hymns and readings. She wanted a happy occasion honoring a life well lived.
     One morning she said to me that there was so much more that she had planned to do and she was running out of time. She wanted to see her young grandsons grow up. She wished that she had…
     I replied, “Look what you have accomplished, and be glad. Think on those things.”
     That was easy for me to say from my perspective. I wasn’t in her situation.
     She raised her sons well –each one is unique – and she had many rewarding years with her husband, the love of her life. She had an artistic flair about her in her paintings, cooking and her style at home. She was blessed with a clear soprano voice that would captivate you, the listener, as if you were hearing a nightingale sing. You can’t get any better than that.
     The last time I saw my friend in the hospital – I had a feeling it would be the end and she knew that, too – I put both of her hands in mine and told her to be at peace and know that God cared for her.
      I spoke with sincerity, and I won’t apologize. Those words weren’t a feeble cliché, one you put to use when nothing better comes out of your head.
     You weep the tears and are sad for a time, and life goes on. The presence of that special person comes and goes into the front of your mind. You have reminders that show up when you are least expecting them.
     I am glad that my friend entered my life for a brief few years,
    I think that I am hearing her say,  “Kay, get out there and make the most of this day.”
     For all of us, my friend exclaims, “ A little laughter goes a long, long way.”