Saturday, January 24, 2009

Both Sides of Death

Death is unavoidable. From the time we enter this world, we progress towards death.

For some, death holds fear and uncertainty. For others, it is a new beginning. For some, it symbolizes agony; for others, blessed peace.

In my experiences, I have always found the death of others to be painful. I have felt the pain of my own loss, the pain at the process of their dying and their concern of what lies beyond this life, and I have felt the loss of those who loved them.

Today I lost a friend. That is not completely true. While we were not related by blood, she was my family. Twelve years ago I met the neighbors two doors down through their tiny granddaughter. That small child brought us all together in a way that grew to a love for each other and the ability to trust each other as family. It has been a wonderful journey and I cherish these relationships.

However, a little over a year ago, the grandmother was diagnosed with a brain tumor. There was surgery, chemo, radiation...and then another mass was found in the abdomen...then one in the chest. Chemo and radiation waged war against the cancer, but it also attacked her immune system, her mind, the healthy parts of her body. She fought so very hard.

Almost two months ago, the doctors told her there was nothing more that they could do. Her family brought her home to care of her. I have never seen such love. Her daugher moved home to be with her mother while her father was at work. Her husband would come home from work at night and carefully, gently, rub her arms and face with lotion...the gentlest facial massage I had ever witnessed. The love and care that they showered upon her was amazing, touching, heart-warming.

Her decline was rapid and it was only three days ago that she was moved into a hospice center. This afternoon, she died. Her family - her husband, daughter, granddaughter, sisters - had all been with her, laughing and talking, trying to keep an air of normalcy to the family love that filled the room. She was unable to respond. It was not 15 minutes after they left that she passed from this life. Her daughter says that she was simply waiting for them to leave, enjoying her last moments with them.

I entered her room only a few moments after she was gone and sat with her until her husband could return. When I close my eyes, I can see her face as it used to be - full, white smile, sparkling eyes, glowing skin, full of personality instead of pain. I know that she is at peace and I also feel that she is filled with joy.

The next days will be painful because we all will grieve her loss and the pain of each of us will overflow, drenching us all in not only our grief, but that of the rest. Through this pain, we will all heal. For the first time, my pain is not tied to the pain of the deceased. I continue to see her smiling face and know that she is well.

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