Letting Go of Someone Who Is Dying
As our friends and family pass away, how to make peace with tough moments
(This story was originally published on Next Tribe.)
My best friend's husband is very ill. Intensive care in New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Hospital. I drove her into the city so she could be with him, kiss him, smooth his hair and look into his eyes and tell him how much she loves him, to hold his hand and watch him sleep. She hadn’t slept the previous night and couldn’t bear driving into the city. Besides, who wants to drive all alone in traffic for two hours — four, round-trip—while your mind is racing all over the place?
I told her today would be just like a girls’ day out, except, you know, without all the fun and the wine.
That sounds peachy, she said, with an extra side of sarcasm.
I left them alone in his hospital room and moseyed over to a fancy nail salon on the Upper East Side and told the nail technician to please, please, massage my feet for at least seven hours. So much nervous laughter from her; she had no idea if I was serious. And why would she? I settled for 20 minutes and a pedicure. Heaven, or for now, close enough.
We All Need More Time
My friend texted me asking for another half hour. She wanted a half hour more with him. To wash his face and feed him some food and to have, you know, more time.
Who doesn’t want that?
I found myself sitting in the hospital's interfaith chapel, a place I had never wandered into, ever. I sat in the row by the exit door. Four men — all Muslim — were kneeling on prayer rugs in the front of the chapel, praying in unison, as if it were perfectly choreographed. A beautiful black woman, impeccably dressed, was across the aisle, her eyes “prayer closed” as she grasped the cameo pendant around her neck. Two Jewish women, possibly a mother and a daughter, were sitting a few rows in front of me, their heads slowly nodding and bobbing as they spoke hushed words I couldn’t understand. A young white boy, who just became a teenager, was there, his body rubbing up against the wall as he fought back tears.
Around me were a stained-glass mandala, massive carved candlesticks, Giacometti-esque figures and a long narrow altar table draped with starched linen. Just the right touches. A small, intimate room for personal prayers.
A Place to Make Peace With the Past
I thought of some friends I haven’t seen or spoken to in a while, and in that moment, that exact moment, in that chapel, I knew they were etched deep in my heart and nothing could or would change that. All of that became my prayer.
I thought of my mom and dad, and I tried to imagine them together as I squinted, conjuring them up in my mind’s eye and how on some days I longed for them. That thought led to my brother, and then to my entire family, a family that is no longer. For a few long, unplanned moments I traveled from anger to resentment to sadness to peace. As I stopped trying to imagine their faces, I began to wish them well. All of that became my prayer.
You could have heard a pin drop.
I thought about this world, our world, about the black woman praying across from me as she grasped her cameo pendant, about the young white boy Velcroed to the wall, his bottom lip quivering, about the Muslim men deep in prayer, and about the Jewish women reciting something under their collective breath while they now held hands.
Rekindling Our Promises Made
I thought about how we were all, no doubt, silently offering up our fears and our worries and our heartaches and our greatest doubts and our deep need for hope and comfort and ease and love. I thought about how we were all rekindling — doubling up — on promises once made, somehow forgotten or lost, and bartering with the Universe or God or deities or cameos or Netflix or Jon Stewart or whoever in hopes that what we offered up would add more years, more days, more weeks, more months — more time.
Enough time to make good, to say I’m sorry; enough time to admit mistakes; enough time to mend misunderstandings and miscommunications; enough time to say I can’t live without you; enough time to love more, to love better, to get love right, to do it right; enough time to say I won’t let you go so fast, not so fast; enough time to say I got you.
In that chapel on this day with death circling every floor, the absolute takeaway is this:
Forever’s not long enough.