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Thursday, June 13, 2013

An E-Mail From A Friend

A couple days ago, I received an e-mail from my dear friend and fellow writer in Chicago, Jennifer Buchberger. Jenn and I go way back. Many moons ago --goodness, could it really be over 20 years ago?-- and in what seems like another life, we met at a writer's workshop and have kept in contact ever since. Jenn's e-mail was in response to my June 2nd blog post "Acceptance & Other Ramblings" about the stages of grief and especially, the last stage, "acceptance".

I received her message late in the evening and 3/4 the way through reading it, I had so many tears in my eyes, I couldn't finish. The next morning, I re-read her e-mail and still got tears in my eyes. Right now, I just finished reading it again, and tears are streaming down my cheeks. (Damn you, Jenn!) Her e-mail has a beautiful message and is beautifully written, so I asked her for permission to publish it here. And she gave it to me. Here it is:

SUBJECT: An Evening with Grace

Detours from being alive became the reality of being alive.  Maybe it's not acceptance, maybe it's just some ease from the weight of sorrow.  I share a few of my experiences along this life quest.     

 Many decades ago, in the month of June, my great-grandfather passed away.  I had turned ten the day before he died.  I do not remember a birthday cake, there may have been one.  I do not remember presents, I'm sure I got one.  
     I do remember how the light looked different in our house, the night felt thicker.  There was much whispering.  My little sister was afraid. I was wondering.  What was going on?  
     The ritual of wake came with the weekend.  Great Aunt Jo, perpetually clutching a white hankie, wandered the room red eyed.  Great grandfather lived with her family for years, at least it seemed so to me.  
     My sister and I stood off to the side, at the back.  We may have been daring each other to go up to the casket.  My grandmother came over to us.  She linked her right arm in my left.  I felt safe.  She said we could go up together.   My sister may have been behind us.  As we came closer to the front (or is it the back of the room?), my muscles changed their mind, tensing.  We were almost there.  I felt my grandmother tug me along.  Then we were standing at the open lid and great grandpa's quiet face.  I expected him to pop up any moment if I stared too long, but I had a hard time not staring.  I'd never seen a dead person, never talked about death either.  Squished enough of those little "blood ants" in the summertime of my childhood, but that wasn't really death to me.  What did I know?  Absolutely nothing.
     Suddenly, I felt my arm extend.  My petite grandmother was reaching our hands toward the corpse!  She was going to make me touch a dead person!  I felt short of breath as I tugged back hard.  "It's just my father," she may have said.  To this ten year old, he might have well been a zombie not yet reanimated.  
     The later 1970's brought out a film about life after death.  Stories of people that went through near death experiences.  Hope that this is not the end.  

     Jump ahead fourteen years.  Along the way, this girl experiences several more funerals.  Wisconsin farm funerals.  I still hung back in the church, choking back tears, cursing Catholic services and Ave Maria choirs.  Trying to distance myself all.  the.  time.  I began to talk and talk about death after the services, weeks after the services.  I tried to make sense of this odd ritual of suffering, of dying.  I kept talking about it until my husband asks "Isn't it enough", although kindly.  
     No, it's not enough.  
     So the quest begins.  Understanding death.  How to die.  How to help someone die (in a non-Kevorkian way).  And I read, read, read, and continue to ask questions.
     Come to present day.  I reflect back over the last 12 years - impacted by infamous 9-11.  To 2005, when my mother-in-law slowly dies  - I remember my mother-in-law laying on her hospital bed -"so much pain.  I hope you never experience such pain." (It still haunts me.)  She died in her own bedroom in the wee hours, her caregiver and my sister-in-law asleep close by.  
     That night was the first night my soul sobbed uncontrollably.  Our relationship wasn't all that great.  We were on a learning curve.  Yet I sobbed.  It felt....cleansing.  Then it stopped.  I cried at the end of the wake.  I may have cried at the church.  Gerry and Erik were pall bearers by choice.  They were moved to do it.  They felt it was a last caring thing they could do for her physical body.  Ritual.  
     More questions.  A house to clean out.  An estate to settle.  Gerry's mother had given the family a gift of a well planned exit.  Many items in her house were marked with notes taped to the back, of who she wished it to go to.  In my eyes, she faced death strongly and organized.  
     A year later, my buddy had a massive heart attack behind the wheel of his red Ford F-150 on the way home from a morning of hunting.  That morning, he'd asked his ex-wife (whom he lived with) "When do ya think Jennifer's going to bring the Christmas cookies over?"  I always make cookies and liked to share with Mike.  He was late coming home that day, it was way after noon.  So I bagged and hooked the full cookie tin on the door knob for his arrival.  His ex-wife walked over around 3 pm.  I expected her to say he was in the hospital.  "Mike died."  Punch.  "Oh."  I really have no idea what I said.   And hour later, I felt I couldn't breathe.  I couldn't breathe.  I couldn't sleep.  I couldn't breathe.  I'd come face to face with the death of someone very close to my heart.  And boy did it suck my breath non-stop that day.  
     Since his death was December 28th, his ex-wife and daughter wanted to get him in the ground (not really) before the end of the year.  Superstition?  Maybe.  Didn't want the new year to start on such a grievous note.  
     January ushered in emotional, physical, spiritual rawness.  I searched for connectedness and relief through specific books.  Pema Chodran's When Things Fall Apart, Dr. Kubler-Ross On Grief and Grieving, David Kessler's The Needs of the Dying, to name only a few - to help make sense of what I perceived senseless.  By March, my crying fits had lessened, and I began to look forward to a day when I could think of my friend and NOT cry.  
2007 rolls around.  
    It was sudden, unexpected, a 6th grade boy - during gym class.  Everyone was doing the most to save him.  I rubbed his chilly right arm, spoke his name.  His eyes rolled, his breath gurgled, rattled, and I knew then.  I saw it, felt it.  The community service police officer arrived with the AED kit.  He seemed confused as to which pads to use.  I grabbed the child pads and placed them on the boy.  The school nurse flipped the switch on the machine, no response.   The ambulance came.  He was whisked away.  Later, before the end of school that day, I'd told the gym teachers he had died - assuming they found out first, after all they were the teachers, I was an aide.  They hadn't.  I'd never delivered news like this before.  They looked numbed.  I wished I knew they didn't so I could have either differed them to the nurse or softened the delivery.  

The following day,  it was learned the boy had an aortic dissection.  No one could have saved his physical life.  Even if he was in the hospital when it happened, we were told.  
That time, when I knew he was gone - it was as if time suspended, I could feel the flurried activity around the scene.  The small sphere around the boy and I was quiet, gentle.  Looking at the boy, holding his arm as he lay on the soft grass, I heard "It's okay.  I am okay."  Tension in my body eased.  Acceptance.   It was a beautiful day in May.

It's been six years.  That moment may be a memory, yet I can still feel the sensation of suspended time.  It was incredible.  That's when I learned, yes, it is a gift to be with someone when they die.  

It took three years before my crying fits finally dissipated.  I can now speak of Mike without falling apart.  I've had dreams of him coming to me, helping me ease away from the sadness.  I'd known him for two years, yet the human connect was intense.  My little friend from the neighborhood.  It was if we both were ten years old and pal-ing around on lazy summer days.  He shared stories of growing up in the country that was now a bustling suburb we live in.  
A co-worker of mine once said, "Loss is loss."  Be it a beloved pet, a sister, a parent, a child, or soul-mate.  

 So, then, what has the subject line to do with this loooong email?  
Grace worked in hospice for 30 years.  Thirty frickin' years!  Takes a special person, I think.  Last week, she held a workshop on "Crossing Over" (not to be confused with John Edwards).  Life after death, and near death experiences, of which she experienced two.   
Some of what I took from this workshop:
     *  Ask the Universe for help, be specific (you already know this).  CONTINUE ASKING!
     *  Practice SELF LOVE (it is NOT selfish), care for yourself
     *  A participant said "I can not lose my mother"  to which Grace asked, " What can't you lose about her? What can't you live without?  You MUST give this to yourself."
     *  They (the dying) do not want you to suffer.  Love them enough to let them go.  Let them know you will be okay.
     *  We cry because we are sad for ourselves.  What we will miss.  Focus on the gift they have given us.  

     Yeh, simple to say - monumentally difficult to put to practice, no?  It is work in progress.
     Another workshop attendee said, "My mother has Alzheimer's and it's hard to think of her not 'being there'."  Eileen recommended having a ritual.  Something like a funeral, but for the person her mother once was.  This will help facilitate the ability to be with her mother in the now.  Meeting her mother where she currently is instead of holding on to what once was.  
     What once was is changed forever.  
     For you and Bob, it is changed forever.  Who knows how the future will unfold.  Perhaps the releasing of the old Bob will propel you in a less painful direction?  
     From your blog on June 2nd :


 his headphones, which are still on "his nightstand" by "his side" of "our" bed LET THEM STAY FOR NOW.  IT IS STILL HIS SIDE OF THE BED AND HIS NIGHTSTAND.

And I thought, what am I searching for?  IT'S ALL RIGHT. (NO IT'S NOT).  YES, IT ACTUALLY IS.  THE PROCESS LEADS TO ........ 


And we came home, Boomer and I. I had left the radio on for Bob and when I opened the door, Elton John was singing that song that goes: butterflies are free to fly, fly away...

and for some reason that nearly brought me to tears.  I fed the dog. And then I sat down next to Bob in his hospital bed as I always do for our morning chat.

And Bob said: "Sad?"

I said, "Oh no, just thinking. Thinking about what to write about."  

All my love
in kindness and compassion
in strength and fortitude
in wisdom and peace


J.L. Murphey said...

Wow! What a friend. I agree with her whole heartedly. Wonderful letter. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...


Thank you for the beautiful post on my sisters blog. What a tribute! I myself have worked in the medical field (several areas)my whole life and have felt that I had dealt with the deaths and changes in the health status of the precious infants to the elderly. But with each change or passing I felt a part of my heart let go and break. You have amazingly wrote one the the most poignant "letters" I have ever read. I just wish I had heard this message years ago.

I really broke down when you described your Grandfathers funeral. Diane and I just recently spoke about our own Grandpa's passing and how it affected us. Some of it was in the same way but a lot of was very different all I know is that it changed the both of
our lives forever.

Thank you for your kind and loving way of kicking us in the rear and showing us how to move forward.

But most of all thank you for all the love and support you have given Diane and Bob over the years. You are a real Blessing to them!

My Prayers are with you,


Anonymous said...

So much of what Jenn wrote, I recognized as things I experienced as I went from long time caregiver for my wife, through making the decision to bring in Hospice, through those final few days, and ultimately her death.

It is because of the talk my wife and I had when Hospice was brought in that allowed me to move forward much faster than I expected it to happen. She knew I would be alright without her, though lonely....and she specifically told me not to sit around mopping for a year before I start looking for another companion. She told me to travel like I've always wanted to, find a companion to enjoy life with, and move on because life is just too short to sit around idle.
So I am doing just that....traveling around the country with a travel companion that has never traveled.

Hugs and prayers, Dan

tdescombes said...

Wonderful advise! I have spent the last week at my Moms side in the hospital. She had Aschemia, a stroke in her intestines. Due to dementia, her short term memory is gone completely. Every day was an endless round of explaining where she was, why she was there, why she couldn't get out of bed, couldn't pull out the IV (it still happened 8 or 9 times) stopping her physiceally from getting up, arguing and scolding (pointless), calling a nurse for help, walking out of the room to cool off, then returning to begin the process again. AARRGGHHH!!!!

Joyce said...

Wow, what a touching, honest and loving message. I. Believe you are blessed to have her for a friend.