Learning To Love You More




Assignment #31
Spend time with a dying person.

Marya Folinsbee
Hamilton, Ontario CANADA



marya folinsbee, visiting granddad (bob folinsbee). may 2nd, 2008 from noon-6pm. general hospital, dunnville, ontario.
It's a good day for dying. Grey clouds, no rain. Smells like spring coming to life again.
In a hospital room that fairly pulses with machines we sit awkwardly around a metal bed making conversation about regular things, tacitly acknowledging that we have no connection to death, that we have no rites and rituals that mean anything, that might help ease you into "the afterlife". I ache to give you ceremony, to speak deeply to your soul. I try to send you messages, to tell you it's okay to let go, but there's a heroin haze in your already faraway eyes, morphine or St. Peter, who knows. I got to say my goodbye. I got to see your grin and wave, watch your great big eyebrows and feel your big puckered lips against mine. I got to tell you I love you. But I can't walk side by side with you as you journey into somewhere foreign to me, and I can't create out of thin air the meaning I long to give your death. So I'll chat idly with my family, about PhDs or old neighbours, about how my bare legs must be cold, that maybe I'll write a book one day. It feels awful, to leave you out of the conversation that is centered around your deathbed. I want to tell stories about you, to recall every moment I can about our intertwined lives, so that even in death you can be living and vivacious, so you can charm us with your wild grins and your big strong hands. I want to comfort you, even after you probably don't know I'm there. When all your body does anymore is breathe, sometimes only twice a minute, and all of us hold our breath with you, involuntarily waiting until it's over.
I keep waiting for the drama, the final moment, the last gasps, the rigor mortis, whatever it is that can signal finality, but it's unceremonious. You stop breathing. We finally let ourselves breathe and blink our tears onto our cheeks, never wanting you to know that it's sad, we're sad to see you go, even if we know it's your time. Never wanting you to know how scary it is to see someone so strong fade away from us. How do you tell someone they were special to you, without scaring them?
I don't think it was painful for you. I think you had gone into the space between life and death where your body doesn't matter anymore long before you exhaled for the last time. Now it's our turn to carry a little bit of pain in our hearts for you, to feel your absence at the dinner table, to really grapple with the fact that we will never see you again.
I will carry this experience with me forever.
I wonder what you thought about, where you went after we said our last goodbyes, if you were sad or scared or nervous or excited, or thinking at all. I grieve the loss of your mind and memories, all your extraordinary stories, all your wisdom and poetry and passion. I grieve to see your generation slip away with so much untapped experience, and so little ceremony. I grieve for my parents, my aunts and uncles, who have to begin to grapple with their own mortality, who have to lose someone so powerful, who become a little bit more vulnerable and a little bit more weak now that you're gone. It's scary to see grownups cry.
I'm sad for this culture where death is something to fear, fight, prevent forever. Where no one is equipped for the experience and no one is willing to talk about it unless it's a matter of logistics. We're all embarrassed of our bodies and our flesh, of our emotions and our heartache. We're not prepared to give everything we have to help you, to forgo constructs and conventions in order to sing you into the final sleep. We don't know how.
I'm sad for your widow, who twenty minutes after holding your hand into the abyss, is on the phone with a funeral home, sorting out all the details, finding out the protocol and the rules for your ceremony. Why have we lost even this most essential experience? We've been cowed into a fearful corner, devoid of the specialness that the circle of life creates. We've failed you in that way. I don't know if you mind or not, if you ever thought about your ideal way to die.