what do you say to someone who's dying? mostly you avoid the subject. you (or to be more precise, the ill person will) talk about the past, reminisce and share memories. we try to negotiate around the sadness, so that these last few times together can at least create a sense of peace and a reassurance of being loved.
i visited an old friend of the family yesterday, a friend of my mother's more than mine. while i've tried to keep in touch over the years, there would be long periods of time when we wouldn't meet. but in the last few years, as her health has deteriorated, i've tried to visit more often. and now that i hear she may only have a couple of more months, there is that aching sadness and sense of loss, even though she isn't even gone yet.
but there's none of that when i go to see her. she doesn't leave any room for it. she isn't stoic, she's accepting and still manages to be positive and cheerful every time i visit. she has an endless supply of stories, which she tells haltingly, sometimes because of lack of breath or tiredness, and sometimes because the memory fails her and she needs time to remember. but that doesn't stop her, and she carries on relating the times in her life that she connected with people, the times they gave her joy and happiness.
i watch her and feel my own weakness. i know that if i suffered anything near what she goes through everyday in terms of medical procedures and pain, i'd be a mess. i can't imagine i'd face such a situation with the courage and dignity that she does. and it is this more than anything else which makes it so much harder to let her go. for who will inspire me the way she does? who will show me and teach me just by her example the heights humanity can reach? i know in my heart that there are and will be others who inspire me, but this one particular person? no, i don't want to let her go.
of course, i don't have any choice in the matter. she will go when her time comes, and if i'm very lucky, in between all the rushing around i'm involved in just now, i will be able to find some few hours to spend by her bedside. i'll be able to hear more of what she wants to tell, and when she's too tired to even do that, i want to be able to sit quietly and hold her hand and to let her feel just how dear she is to me, as she is to so many other people on this planet.
in my religious tradition, the prayers of the elderly carry a lot of weight. and as part of indian culture, it's considered a blessing to be able to live in the shade of one's elders. so along with the love i feel for her, i also carry that respect inside me, which helps me to value her even more.
all i can do is pray that her final days will be as free of pain as possible, and that she goes in peace and rests in peace. she deserves all that and so much more.