Death: a single moment in time where all that comes before is living; and so too, all that comes after.
Grief is an ongoing process; reading through and organising my diary entries from the last 3 years has been a cathartic part of that process for me.
Portions of the following post have come from a diary entry made at the beginning of this year. Sharing that entry publically was not a given, some parts are deeply personal, like much of what we have shared before; the difference now is that Brendan isn’t here.
As I was thinking should I or shouldn’t I and if Bren would want parts of our conversation shared in this post, I turned the page of a magazine I was mindlessly flicking through. The page I landed on featured a rainbow (see image below) …I took that as a firm yes! Even so only some parts of the entry have been used here.
Talking about Death
Should we all talk more about death? I think probably yes! To have conversations about death can allow us to work through and release some fear and anxiety we may have around the subject. It also gives the dying an opportunity to explore what might happen next …and express their feelings about that with us. That can be an incredibly healing experience for all involved.
I certainly wish I had had many more conversations about death with my children before the day I had to tell them that their father was dying and that we might lose him that night. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
Fact: we don’t have to be dying or know someone who is dying — to talk about dying.
Morbid? Not necessarily…talking about dying in general conversation, (age appropriately with children) I now understand allows it to be the natural part of life it is, for all of us. Without a doubt we are all going to face death at some stage. We needn’t dwell on that of course. I know Brendan never did. But he understood the reality of it.
Diary Entry (excerpt) 14/01/17
“We’re all exhausted as life marches on around us. We are still sitting in cancer limbo and in theory not looking back might be the best solution moving forward; in reality I’m not sure that’s true. It would be too sad not to look back at the wonderful memories we have made together as a family so far — after all, doesn’t knowing you will remember add to the joy experienced in a moment of memory making?
Sadly, for us, it’s tricky to make plans for future memory making adventures right now, as every time we do cancer finds a way to make sure they fall through. I would love to be able to shrug my shoulders and say ‘ah well there’s always next time’ — but we’re never really sure that’s true.
Bren and I both know it’s time for the conversation that we’ve been dreading since his cancer diagnosis. We think about it more than either of us cares to admit, we are human after all. Now the time has come to talk about death.”
Death …a conversation
It was an average day that day, Bren was sitting in the driver’s seat of my car fixing something, as he often did. I was leaning against the car near him; we were talking about the new pain he could feel in his shoulder. This was the first time since it had been bothering him that he admitted it felt like it might be another tumour.
He had enjoyed a pretty active summer; we had spent lots of time together at the beach and walking our dog Otis, as a family, and sometimes just the two of us. He was still cross-training consistently. The bad news was that the tumours were spreading, pain was increasing and his stump was sore, so he was off his prosthetic and back on crutches. The oral chemo was no longer effective and had been stopped, he was about to start an immunotherapy trial, a possible side effect of which was that the treatment could be fatal in rare cases… we were both scared, but hopeful.
He looked at me and said “you’re going to have to prepare yourself for the fact that the worst might happen you know!”
I can’t remember exactly what we said next, but I felt like throwing up. I know I cried. We both did. There was some agreement about the fact and some acceptance, it wasn’t a long conversation but it was a starting point. As we were talking I felt like I was floating above us, watching what was going on. My spirit was flailing madly inside my body like the little silver ball in a pinball machine, getting smacked around, knowing it was about to be tilted. I can’t imagine how Bren felt.
I assured him through sobs and an endless flow of tears that if the worst happened, if he died, the kids and I would all be OK; together he and I had carefully created a tight group of trusted family and friends around us that would make sure of that. I was saying what I thought he needed to hear in that moment, but we both knew we wouldn’t be OK, not without him — although the part about our support network was very true. Then I asked him what scared him the most about dying.
I can still see the expression on his face as he began to tell me. Not defeated, he never at any stage of his illness looked defeated. He looked how I felt — heartbroken. There were two things Bren was worried about; leaving the kids was first and foremost. He said “I don’t know if I’ve got my little fella’s where they need to be to go on without me.’’
I told him that that was something they would never be ready for no matter how old they might be — and that he could trust the way we had raised them and the love he had always shown them. He gave them more of his heart and time in their 13 years with him than some people get in a lifetime together, and for that matter the same was true for me and the 22 years we had together. I needed him to know, then and there, that they would always go through life knowing that there was nothing more important to their dad than them. That alone would ensure that eventually they would be ok.
The second was the pain he knew he would go through at the end, that weighed heavily. He had already experienced a level of pain that no-one should ever have to go through. To think it would get worse was frightening. I told him that we would make sure we had all the drugs he needed so he wouldn’t have to worry about pain … and reminded him that he would be at home. I reassured him that he would die in the comfort of his own home, our home, with his family around him. It felt so strange to be having this conversation with my husband. He was so young. When the end finally came, palliative care helped make being at home possible.
Our conversation about death was practical, and we were able to have it because we love each other truly, madly, stupidly deeply. The first conversation made room for us to go on and talk about and understand things that needed to be talked about. I knew what was important to him, what he wanted, how he wanted to be celebrated. Nothing was left unsaid between us — and we both felt good about taking the opportunity to thank each other, apologise to each other, laugh about silly stuff and reminisce about all the amazing, funny, happy things we did together. And above all else how much we loved each other and were grateful for our life together.
I know that conversation about death and the ones that followed, in subtle ways, brought Bren some peace and comfort, and it did me too. But I also had a physical reaction to it. For days after I was exhausted, ached all over and felt a bit broken and deflated, a world without my husband in it made no sense to me then and still doesn’t today.
When Brendan’s moment of death came, it was beautiful. Its complete lack of drama was comforting. His strength was inspiring. His readiness to let go gently in the arms of love, to make it easier for us – was obvious. Think about the most natural thing in the world; calm, peaceful, loving and that is how he slipped from this world to the next. Knowing he was free did little in that moment to ease our pain — but his was finally gone. And for that we were grateful.
Fear not the loss, for life is truly infinite. I have seen that for myself … through the love of my husband and every sign he sends to let me know he is OK.
Without doubt, know that love never leaves.