Be Not Afraid

You are never alone

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Photo by Tonik on Unsplash

I don’t remember the last time I died. But I sure as hell remember the last time I attended a death.

She could no longer speak. But I sensed her need. Even though I was asleep in the bedroom and she was in her power wheelchair in the living room. She needed to go to the bathroom.

Subconsciously, I had become attuned to her needs. It was something beyond words or sounds. To this day I’m not quite sure when she lost her voice. I remember our interactions as clear conversations even though she had completely lost the ability to speak months before.

Sometime between midnight and three in the morning I woke up. She needed help. I know it was in this time window because by five she was gone. And I had slept even after wheeling her into the bathroom and back out. I remember quietly whispering into her ear as I pushed her along: “You can go now, your father will be there. We’ll be okay.”

It was all she needed to hear. I know I slept for awhile afterwards but I have no recollection of where nor do I remember how I came to be on the telephone with her doctor asking if I could give her another dose of morphine. I know her mother was there because she had urged me to call and she would be there for the rest of her daughter’s life. She was a nurse and she understood these things. Even if she had never in a million years imagined she’d witness her own daughter’s passing.

I can’t tell you how I know. But I can tell you when I came to understand. I was thirteen years old. I don’t know what happened to bring it on but I remember laying in bed and imploring the power that is: “Please don’t make me come back here again.” And I understood, at the core of my being, that life is not what it seems.

There is pain here. And soul searing indifference. Why is that, I wonder? And I realize it’s because people are scared. Of losing what they have. So scared that they will destroy anything and anyone in order to hold on to it. And yet, in the end, we lose it all anyway. The only thing that has any lasting value at all, is love.

Just like I don’t know how my wife communicated her needs to me, I don’t know how I know this truth. But I know it as if the Universe itself whispered it in my ear.

To fear death is like fearing the sunset. We have no control over either. And to pretend that we do is to live our lives in a state of delusion.

My wife was afraid of death. But not for the reasons stated above. She had no ties to the material world. She had two driving forces in her life. The work she did and the children we raised.

She spent her entire working life as a helper. She ran community residence programs for the mentally ill. She advocated for, and made the lives of, so many disenfranchised souls, less tortuous. She understood these people and the difficult lives they were living. Not because she was one of them, but because her father was clinically depressed himself. She was raised in the chaos of mental illness and spent her life trying to improve the lives of people like her father.

If there’s a lesson in all of that for me, and most of us in the world, it’s this: People are NOT fully responsible for the life situation in which they find themselves. It’s a lie we tell ourselves to avoid taking any responsibility for our fellow human beings.

It’s also a lie my wife had no intention of telling herself. Like nurses called to the occupation, she came here to serve. And, like one who is doing what she came here for, she loved life and she didn’t want to leave. Which makes me wonder why she had to suffer such a horrifying death herself?

I can come to no other conclusion than that of unveiling to me the interconnection of all of our lives. And the impulse to write about it. To whisper it into the ears of as many other humans as possible.

Be not afraid. There are helpers. We are all helpers. Each in our own subtle and unique way. All we need to do is to discover and embrace our destiny.

Thank you for sharing your time with me.

Oh, to be loved like that!

Are you sure you mean it?

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Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

I was chatting with my friend and fellow Medium writer Ann Litts last night, right after she wrote this piece. She told me the situation had reminded her of me and the love I had for my late wife, as I’ve written about before.

As these kinds of conversations often do, it led me into a place of quiet reflection. And another sleepless night.

Hi, I’m Dick and I fall in love too fast, too deep and I give way too much. Or, at least I once did.

The person I love has always come first. My family has always been next in line. Only after I was certain they were all getting what I thought they needed did I look after my own interests. I’m certain some of those people would argue the point, but remember I clearly stated: “what I thought they needed”. I’m sure I was wrong, on many occasions. That doesn’t negate the fact that I was doing what I thought was the “right thing”.

I turned down promotions. I often took unnecessary risks to get home late at night instead of staying over in a hotel. All because my family meant more to me than any career. And, as most ambitious women have known for decades, putting your family first doesn’t bode well for advancement opportunities in business. It cost me. I martyred myself in many ways. But I really don’t regret any of that at all. At least not when it comes to “career” aspirations. I’ve never seen what I did for money as much more than a job.

The lesson I needed to learn came when my wife was dying. When she left the choice of her or the family’s future in my lap. ALS was stealing her breath away, slowly and inexorably suffocating her. There was the option of going on a vent. Extending her life for an indefinite period of time. And she wanted that. She wanted more than anything to see her children grow up, make their way in the world and have her grandchildren. I think you can probably see where this is going.

I contacted her doctor and requested information about the procedure. I asked about follow-up care. I learned that committing to this course of action would likely cost in the neighborhood of $30,000 per month. For as long as she lived. Insurance would cover it. But this was ten years ago. My insurance had a lifetime cap of one million dollars. We’d already gone through something on the order of a hundred thousand and there really was no hope for a cure on the horizon. Even the doctor recommended against going down this road.

I loved my wife. And I love my kids. But here I was, having to decide between keeping my wife alive and being able to provide some sort of future for my four kids. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t make the decision. I told her I would do whatever she wanted but that she would have to make the decision herself. And as a mother, she couldn’t do it either.

I often struggle with this memory. Did I take the coward’s way out by forcing her to choose? Or did I actually choose myself and my kids over her? Was it fair of her to even ask such a thing of me? I don’t have quite the same tenacious grip on life that my wife possessed. If I had been faced with the same decision for myself, it would have been easy for me to choose her and the kids. But I think I knew that I was making her decide, almost certainly against her greatest hope. And in that moment, I didn’t feel like the husband I had always believed myself to be. I felt defeated. By something out of both of our hands. I think, in retrospect, that’s the very moment I realized that any sense of control we believe ourselves to have is fleeting and illusory.

In the grand scheme of things, I believe we’re just along for the ride. And depending on your belief system, fate, the gods, God or even random chance will always have the last word. We’re asked only to choose love. But even that choice can rip us apart if the circumstances are just so. I wouldn’t wish the circumstances we found ourselves in on anyone. But I’ve come to believe that it was the price extracted for the opportunity to love so completely.

Or maybe I’m just a romantic old fool.

Thank you for your time.