“So much of who we are comes from those who have touched us,
other lives we have shared.
When we mourn a loss we also celebrate all the ways
that another’s life is reflected in our own.”
My neighbor died last night. He was 83. He had been battling cancer for the past few months. His fight is over now. I'm sad, but mostly glad he's not suffering any more. I believe he's in a better place.
What's especially hard when someone dies, is knowing what to say to the ones that are left behind. Even if it's true, they don't especially want to hear, "he's in a better place."
A couple of weeks ago I had a rather unique experience. I was asked to sit with my neighbor while his sister went and did some things. I knew that things might not be pretty. But I went with a happy heart and a desire to be with George. My priest used to call it the ministry of presence. He assured me I didn't have to say anything, that people often just want a person to sit with them. Hell, I can do that. I'm a pretty good sitter.
I had noticed that George could use a little tending to. His nails needed to be trimmed and he could use a good slathering of Lubriderm - not to mention a shave. So I took some things with me and George didn't seem to mind my playing manicurist. I trimmed, and filed and rubbed lavender Shea butter into his parched skin. No words passed between us as I held his hands in mine and gently massaged his fingers. The lavender aroma put us both at ease.
The week before we'd been having a conversation about his life and he told me this wonderful story of friendship. His lifelong friend was visiting before moving to California to live with his daughter. "What do you need?" the friend asked. And George answered that it had been ages since he'd had a real bath. So the friend did exactly what you'd want a friend would do. He took the dying man to the bathroom and bathed him in a tub full of warm water and love. I love that.
I told George I'd never shaved anyone before, but that didn't faze him. He told me where to find all the shaving paraphernalia then laid back with his eyes closed while I shaved off week's worth of whiskers. I finished with a gentle slap of Aqua Velva on his cheeks. I wish I had a picture of his smile - it spoke what no words could.
Not much I could do after that but sit there. I held his hand til I thought he was almost asleep. That's when he said, "Bless you Mary" and some other words I couldn't quite make out. He spoke in a low murmur then finished with an strong "amen." That's when I realized that he had just prayed for me. He was tired. He was dying. Yet, he prayed for me. I was humbled to my core.
On the way home I prayed that I wouldn't soon forget the afternoon. I prayed that it wouldn't be our last time together, but, really, if it was, I couldn't ask for more. I prayed for understanding. This afternoon's experience felt like a precursor to what might come as I continue to take care of my father. Between George and I there was no struggle. Between Dad and I the struggle is still intense. George allowed me to do for him the same things my father still needs to do to maintain his very existence. He's not ready to let go. I've seen now that there is a difference. There may come a time when Dad is okay with me rubbing lotion into his pruney skin. Until then, I need to share with Dad what I shared with my neighbor. I have to remember that some days it's simply my presence that is most important to him.