Wednesday, December 15, 2010

close encounter of the dying kind

This has been a sobering experience. It has been my first close encounter with death, the first time I have participated in a dying, the first time I have cared for a dying person. Certainly, I have had people die in my life...friends, family, but it was always at a distance. My grandmothers, my maternal and paternal aunts and uncles, a few friends, my parents and an occasional aunt or uncle through marriage. I have seen some of them in various stages of decline but it is the first time I have seen a dead body up close. I had never been present at an actual death and whenever I had been at a funeral with an open casket I would never purposefully look.

When my father died I did not go spend time with his body because I knew that he would not have wanted that and when my mother died, I couldn't bring myself to look at her dead body. I don't know what I expected or feared. My brother-in-law looked exactly the same and stayed warm for a long time. That surprised me. I have held dying and dead cats and they get cold quick.

I'm not afraid of death, haven't been for a long time, not since I gained a certain understanding. And my sorrow at Mike's passing is not that he passed but that my sister is bereaved. I mean, I have sorrow that he died so young but I don't think death in and of itself is a terrible thing. We are born to enter and we die to leave.

I think what upsets me the most about all this is that it is so close. It was my sister's husband. Not just my generation but my family. If it could have been my sister's husband that means if could just as well have been mine.

And that is something I don't care to contemplate.


  1. Once again I am so grateful for all the loving support and prayers for my sister, myself and our family. The memorial service, the celebration of his life is this evening and then I will turn my attention back to life.

    thank you. thank you all more than I can say.

  2. It's different when it's close...It will probably be more difficult for your sister to again turn her attention back to life...will be thinking of your family...

  3. I remember yesterday someone talked about the time factor after a death. When it is so close, there is so much going on right now. It almost seems dream like, but before long in a few days, you and your sister will find that the silence will be the worst. And in a couple of weeks will be when, believe it or not your sis will need someone...anyone....a lot. Some folks pass this stage quickly while others can't. So my wish for your family is peace in the turmoil and then activity when it is unbearably quiet. Aching for you all. The Olde Bagg, Linda

  4. There is something profoundly human about caring for someone who is dying, and being there when they take their final breath. It changes you. You look at life differently after that experience. I don't know how to describe it, but I think you know what I mean.

    As for your sister, she will grieve in her own way, as everyone must. For some it is a process that goes on for years. For others it is brief and intense. There are so many ways to experience and express grief, and there is no right or wrong.

    For me, the weirdest part of the whole experience was the realization that life goes on. For the first few weeks I would see people laughing and working and playing and going about their business as if nothing had happened, and I would think to myself, "What is wrong with you people? Don't you know the world just ended??" And I had to keep reminding myself that the world didn't revolve around me. Looking back now, I think it's kind of funny that I felt that way, but I really did. I really felt like the whole world was supposed to stop and grieve with me. As absurd as that sounds, I point it out as an reminder that there are no rules for the grieving. Whatever they say, or feel, or do, is right for them.

  5. Boy I know how you feel - I don't even want to contemplate the same thing happening to me. It makes me a little more tolerant with Dr. M for a just a while - the idea of him not being here. But I can't look at it very long.

  6. Yes, that is exactly what it is, when it's one's own generation it could even have been us.

    Intimations of mortality.

  7. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and experience here. This is real; it helps us all to read what you say here. To skip over it and write about something else would seem kind of forced, you know?

    Like you, I do not fear death at all. I have been present for a number of human deaths. There is always a sense of relief once they pass away. Those of us left behind have to contend with impossible feelings and transitions. But we do it. We deal with and get through loss all the time.

    We are all of us stronger than we can ever imagine.

    Thanks again and much love.

  8. Bittersweet. His suffering has ended, but so has his being. My heart goes out to your sister and to you. It is sobering to consider your own mortality .....

  9. It must have been tough, indeed. I don't look forward to that moment, but I hope I'm strong, and full of hope for those left behind.

    Ellen, this post helps a whole lot of people think about a subject we tend to avoid.

    May your family find peace and comfort in the memories you all share about the life you were priviledged to enjoy together.

  10. Beautifully written with your heart about a subject that is mostly taboo.

    Dying is not as scary as being the one left and for that, my heart goes out to your sister.

    My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

  11. Beautiful post. It does get scary when those we close to emotionally as well as in generation start to pass.

    I never looked away from death, but parents were very overprotective of me, so like you, being at my Mom's side when she died was the closest I have ever been to actual death. It is very sobering. And even though you know that it is part of the natural order of things, you wish it weren't so.

    Being so close when the person passes causes pause. It presents an opportunity for reflection upon how short life is, not only for ourselves, but for those we are close to. Though it is tough, pondering such emotions and events, allows us to appreciate those who are still in our lives and perhaps to take stock on how well we have lived our own lives. I think that is a good thing even though it comes from a painful event.

  12. I'm so sorry that your sister (and you) are going through this period. Death is a continuation of the life cycle and even though we know it's going to come sometime, when it happens it is still a sobering thought. Yes, the suffering is past but so is the loving, living, and laughing. My sister died in 2001, my dad in 2005, my sister-in-law in 2009. Each one left behind a legacy and I cherish the many fond memories I have of each. But, the times I go to pick up the phone or send an email and have to realize that this part of the life cycle is over and that I cannot share those moments with them, makes the moment more poignant.

  13. You express your thoughts so eloquently. Your sister is lucky to have you to offer support.

  14. I too am glad you are there to support your sister. I just couldn't imagine losing mine!?
    Hugging you and your sister gently,

  15. Such a poignant post. Dying is a more difficult process than being born. We come kicking & screaming into this world ready for a romp, but mostly when we die we just slip away going silently. Strength to you.

  16. This is so beautifully written Ellen - and you say it so poignantly.

    My best wishes to your sister, you and your family. I know how hard this must be - I wish there was more that I could do.

    Take care over the holidays.


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