Life and Death

It was Christmas, 2015 that the explosion happened at the dinner table. My brother and I, my parents, my aunt and uncle, and two younger cousins. We might have been having fun, wearing tissue paper crowns and racing wind-up penguins across the table. It was much later and the two younger ones were locked into their electronic devices, the rest of us remained at the table, wine glasses close to empty, listening to my uncle tell stories. And then my brother snapped.

I dont remember how old I was when I finally began to understand the kind of person my uncle was. My mom tells me she saw the look that crossed my face the moment it happened. That my aunt saw it too. 

It took years for my brother and I to finally decide we’d had enough of my uncle. My brother had packed his things and nearly drove home that night. It took an hour long, heated conversation for him to finally come out and say he wouldn’t do a family gathering that included my uncle again. My brother was eventually persuaded to stay, but it was the last Christmas we would spend with my aunt, uncle, and cousins.

December 2017, right before Christmas, my last grandparent passed. Some time before that my mom and I had gone to lunch and she’d told me what my grandma’s life had been like. How hard it must have been. It was lovely to hear she’d had a smile on her face when she passed. That perhaps my granddad had finally taken her hand and that they were reunited.

And it was that passing that finally brought us all back together. To raise a glass to celebrate her life and love, together.

Not present, was my uncle. 

Five days prior, the doctors had discovered cancer in his bones and lungs. They told him he had a few months at best. That day he stopped eating. My aunt believed he had given up hope. She called her eldest daughter, away at college, and told her she needed to come home as soon as possible. And that afternoon we helped my aunt get ahold of hospice.

I’ve struggled to remember the anger I felt, to remember why it was important. Maybe there is a reason it all happened like this. My sweet and endlessly loving grandmother, hanging on to life for so long. No one knows why. Perhaps it was for this. Perhaps it was to bring us all back together at this time when love and support was needed. Perhaps this was her lasting gift to us.

Hiatus – Day 4

…Sombre Thoughts…

We rose early, drove thru the rain, caught a ferry, and found ourselves at the hospital. Perhaps I’d been keeping the idea at arms length, to deny the truth of it, but as the elevator doors opened and we saw their familiar faces, the truth came crashing to the forefront of my world: She is sick, really sick…

At some point in my twenties, I think I just stopped. Stopped growing, stopped progressing, stopped moving forward in my life. I still run to my parents when my heart is broken. I still call my dad when there is something wrong with my car. I still have boxes of childhood things hidden somewhere in my parent’s garage. I’m not grown up yet, I can’t be. I don’t have friends whos parents are dead of semi-natural causes. I didn’t graduate with a small town guy whos dance group nearly won America’s Got Talent. Our closest family friend’s oldest daughter isn’t currently fighting a rare and aggressive form of cancer for her life…

We hug, and smile, and are happy for the familiar faces. Yesterday was a bad day, and at this point, they are simply getting thru each day. Unsure of what tomorrow will bring, or the day after, or when life eventually calls them back home. Who wakes up with a game plan for this sort of thing? We decide to go get pizza for lunch. 

I am not sure if I am quiet because I am tired, or if it is because I am unsure of what to say. I can admittedly lecture others on the sorts of things to think and say in this sort of situation, but I can’t find the words myself. How do you talk with someone whos world right now is this fight, without bringing up the idea of death? How do you talk with someone whos world right now is unknown, without seeming aloof? How do you ignore the topic of pain and fear, without ignoring the actual pain and fear? The ironic thing is, this is my job. I am strong every single day for my patients, and especially for their loved ones. “What are we supposed to do? How are we supposed to go home and sleep tonight?” Fear and pain in their eyes. And I will nod, place a hand gently on their shoulder or back, and say, “take care of yourself. Rest assured that your loved one is where they need to be right now. In the hands of people who are watching, and caring, and going to keep them safe. Take care of yourself, so that when you come back tomorrow, you are strong for them.”

But none of that comes to my mind as we awkwardly stand outside her room. Or once we are in her room. Or even once we’d left… I don’t realize I am holding my breath. Holding it as we ride down the elevator, holding it as we drive back to the ferry, holding it as we arrive back home, the sun still shining. It isn’t until the front door closes behind us that I release my breath and with it my tension. How do I begin to make sense of this reality?