Sunday, January 8, 2017

Death, the thief

"Death has come, the stranger. Death, the thief."

That's a quote from How Huge the Night, a phrase that keeps running through Nina's thoughts the day her father dies (expectedly) of tuberculosis. Part of me feels, now, that it was melodramatic to put it that way. On the other hand, can any words be dramatic enough, for losing your father at sixteen? All I know is I bit off an awful lot to chew with that scene.

The phrase came back into my mind, this week, when I heard the news that a dear friend has just gone on hospice care.

He's older, a grandfather, and has been disabled almost all his life with rheumatoid arthritis and with a lung condition that means constant congestion he's had to keep at bay with daily effort. We've been friends for years--I've visited and chatted with him once a week since shortly after I moved to the intentional community where we live--and really good friends for the past two years or so, since we discovered how much we enjoyed talking about writing, about Story, together. He became my writing mentor, really. That whole time his health has been declining. Many bouts of pneumonia, home IV antibiotics, hospitalizations; he's a person who believes in talking about things, and he has talked about dying. I always knew this was the cost of a deepening friendship with him. I didn't really know how long we had. No-one did. Now the bill is coming due.

Because now it's sure. He's just been diagnosed with one more condition. This one's an auto-immune disease. He can't take immune suppressants; what immune system he has left is the only thing that's keeping him alive. He has six months to live at the very most. More likely much less.

I've never really had a friend die before. (And I'm 35. That's privilege right there.)

I wasn't ready. I was hoping I could finish this book in time for him to read it. He's helped me so much with it. It's going to be dedicated to him. My husband and I will be helping with the care he needs in order to stay at home--me, sitting with him when his wife is at work (at times when their kids or other friends can't be there), and my husband doing caregiving things he is experienced with. I'm glad of the chance, at least, to spend extra time with him before the end.

I don't really know what to say about this, that will make it worth reading for others. 'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all? Well yes, definitely. I wouldn't trade a single one of our conversations for not feeling sad now. The very idea of not feeling sad now feels sadder than anything. I seem to remember a quote from somewhere that grief often feels like fear. I think that's true. The first three days after I got the news that made all this final, I was so exhausted from my emotions by evening I could barely focus, my body physically felt like I was carrying a bag of rocks. I can only imagine how it feels for his wife. I don't know how it will feel in the days to come. But yes, it's worth it. And walking with him right to the end, for however long I can be a friend, is a privilege I wouldn't give up.

I don't know. Maybe, just now, that's all I've got to say.


Next week I'll try to start writing rescuer stories again.

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