My Death Bed
~After breaking up with someone whom I had dearly loved, it felt like a death, as is the natural progress of grief. I thought...someday I will truly die, and what would I like that to look like? While I cannot predict the day or hour, I can certainly have a vision of that and make strides towards making the vision a reality. We humans are so short sighted and we lose sight of the goal, getting lost in the demands of society and fair-weather friends. If you could paint a picture of what your death bed moments would look like, your last days, what would that look like? Are your actions today setting you up for that reality? Are you bankrupting your future dreams because you think the journey to them ought to look a certain way, or you are trying to satisfy the demands of those who are not in line with your dreams? It is difficult and constant to slough off the debris the world sheds on us, and dares to bog us down in the superficial, the fleeting, the meaningless. ~
This is what giving up looks like. A warm blanket covered a frail body, so worn by living that the slightest chill could easily take it. Pillows made of dreamy clouds, just the way I like it. They make me feel as though I am sleeping in Heaven; a temporary sleep, unlike the slumber that awaits this flesh and bones. The hum of happy voices downstairs, happy to see each other. My children, their spouses, and their children's children are throughout the house, their chatter harmonizing with the awakening world, a song too beautiful for words. Birds begin their morning call outside the window, streaming beams of bright joy, warming my face, making me feel as alive as I have ever been. The lattice frames the window for the brilliant purple of the morning glories to peek in. The brilliance of it all is overwhelming, a sweet pang in my chest reminds me of the love cultivated for decades that never diminished but grew exponentially. The more I gave, the more it multiplied; a heavenly formula that defies human logic.
Warm tears ease their way down now hollowed cheeks, creased with lines of joy. This sweet release of giving up has rewarded me with an abundance I never fathomed possible. I close my eyes and allow life to wash over me. The days of self were many, a whole third of my life spent trapped in my own ego. A pain pricks me with the memory of it. A single mom, tormented by the destruction of what she believed was her only hope for a fulfilled life, a happy ending. I was so silly, so dramatic. How much goodness did I miss, wrapped in a cloak of unwillingness to see the free flowing abundance before me? It wasn’t anger, it was sadness fostered by narrowmindedness, an insecurity that said there would be no other hope for happiness.
I had loved again. If I hadn’t loved him, perhaps I would have lost more life, unaware that my heart was capable of loving again. His stubborn ways and inexplicable fears kept us from being together, living a life of love and second chances out. Lord, how I prayed his heart would change, that as certain of him that I was, he would have found equal certainty of me. His ego hindered his love for me from being fully expressed. His ego kept us from living our days out together, but the realization of this saved me from perpetuating my own captivity to self. More tears stream down as I recall the embrace of his strong arms, the perfection found when we were together was the union of two puzzle pieces that had been joined. I pity him, thinking that perhaps one day he realized what he had lost, and he finally grieved as I had. It brought me no joy to think of him living in his own torment; love isn’t like that and love is all that I have for him to this day.
Through his stubbornness, I saw my own. Like a flashing light, through tears and prayers begging a softening of his heart, I saw my unwillingness to accept any other end but the one that I had painted with him. It was as if God saw my grief and longing and in his divine omnipotence, he told me to change. He told me to shed my preconceived notions, my small minded dreams, my stubborn death clutch on what I believed was the only way to a fulfilled life. A trickle of tears became a flood, as with new eyes I saw my own grip on a story that I had written before consulting the characters. I wanted to love so fiercely that I was blinded to the possibilities of other loves, other plots and endings. I loved stubbornly, not in a noble sense, but in a desperate clinging to what appeared to be my last chance at love, and unwillingness to think that my heart could love more than I gave it credit for. I was an orphan terrified to lose the little she had. My ego got in the way and made me blinded, so I could see no other way.
I have loved him all these years. When my thoughts wandered, I would continue to feel his embrace and the gentle kisses on my forehead. I gave up on what I wanted to be our story. I gave up on hoping he would shed his ego and pride, and I shed my own. It has made all the difference. This, as I hear children laughing with their parents, in my home, this is what giving up looks like. I gave up on my ego, my preconceived notions, my insecurities, my fears; I gave up on them. At times, I tried to pick them back up again, but a voice grew louder over the years, a voice of assurance and abundance and the temptation to pick up my pride again became less and less.
Yes, those sweet memories of pain and confusion, they are sweet. The memory of them makes the realities of today all the more precious. I know what it means to lose and grieve because life can sometimes be cruel, but I learned to never lose and grieve because of my own pride, ever again.
A breath in and I return to the present, the smell of coffee and crisping bacon wafts through my door. The simple delights. How many times have I taken them for granted? Never mind that now, it is here now and oh is it great!
A soft knock at the door, and a tender voice calls in, asking if I have woken. “Yes, dear. Please come in!” A turn of the door handle and big blue eyes peer in at me, with a mischievous smile. “Good morning, Great Grandma!” Lilly bounds in with a big presence and lands like a feather at my side, quickly wrapped in my arms. Her parents warn her to be gentle with me, but I don’t mind the intense grip she uses with me, it’s as if the love she has for me can only be expressed through the full might of her eight years of age. Wiggles and giggles, more heavenly than any gift I could have hoped for. My heart aches with the intensity of love fulfilled.
The wiggling stops, and a delicate hand reaches to push a wisp of hair from my forehead. “Great Grandma, do you know that you are the most beautiful old lady that I have ever seen?” Lilly says with the sincerity that can only come from a dear child. “Oh, darling! That is the sweetest thing you could have said to me this morning!” A squeeze and a kiss to her forehead, and she is delighted in our exchange.
“Grandma, I have been thinking a lot about you dying. I don’t like it at all, but mom and dad say you will be in a better place and that you will have no more pain or sadness. I don’t want to keep that from you, but I will be awfully sad. Why can’t you maybe just visit Heaven but stay with us? Are you sad?”
“Oh, sweet child, aren’t you the most thoughtful creature there is!” I kiss her forehead and collect my thoughts to answer her. “Lilly, I am not sad. No. How could I be sad, with you lying here next to me? You and everyone that has filled this house over the years, are a treasure to me; a treasure that I didn’t earn, but I cherish nonetheless. I suppose that the only sadness I could feel, is the sadness over leaving you. I know that your heart is good, and that you will do great things, and it does make me sad to think of not being able to kiss you and encourage you. But that is simply because I am not there yet. So often, our sadness is borrowed from tomorrow, that we forget to live today. So darling, I try very hard to not let the sadness of tomorrow rob me of the sweetness of today. My body is in pain, oh, but it is a small price for being here one more day, hearing the laughter of my loved ones, witnessing God’s goodness in your heart. I get to see how his paintbrush has painted something stunning in the lives of those that I love. I believe there will be a day when I feel no more physical pain. It will be like when you go to camp with all of your friends. You love them don’t you?”
Lilly nods, unsure of how my dying and camp could possibly compare.
“Darling, you love your friends at camp, and are excited to go see them, but that doesn’t mean you love your mom and dad any less. Isn’t that right? You are happy to come home and see them, because you love them too. But what if you didn’t love your friends or your parents? Wouldn’t it be so much easier to leave them?”
“Oh yes, Grandma. If I didn’t love them, I guess that I would be happy to leave them.”
“That seems likely. So you see, without love, there is no pain. Even when my body hurts, it only bothers me, because I love my body and the life it has given me. Death only hurts, because we love. I love you and do hate to leave you, but I love God and am eager to see him and all my dear friends who are already there. I don’t want to leave you, but it is necessary, and there is good in it. The times you spend cuddling with me, you will now have that time to give to someone else. Choose wisely. Fill those times with another who will love you and you can love in return, and before long, you will find that the pain of missing me is not as great, because you have another gift to cherish.
“But Grandma, I don’t want to cuddle with anyone else. I don’t care if I could love them too. I love you now and don’t want to love anyone else or love you less.” Tears streamed down her face, looking at me with the sincerity and boldness of sharing one’s heart openly. She doesn’t know the courage it took for her to speak so freely, because she was granted a legacy of boldness, generations of family, striving to be bold and consistently sincere. I admire my great grandbaby.
As if a balloon had been placed within my chest and blown to capacity, the overwhelming love, anticipated grief, and sadness that someday I will not be able to wipe the tears from this precious face, cause me to pause. “Oh Lilly, you are precious, beyond words. Do you know I have had those very thoughts and words come from my mouth many times?”
“What do you mean, Grandma? Did you lose your great Grandma too?”
“Oh no, sweetie. I never met any of my great grandparents, they had all passed away long before I was born. Love is one of those things, that it doesn’t matter so much who you love, but that you love that person. And when you love, it always hurts to say goodbye. I have said goodbye many times. Sometimes because of death, and sometimes, simply because that part of my life was ending.”
“What did you do?”
“I cried, a lot. When I was your age, I was afraid to cry. I have learned that crying is good, it releases the pressure building up inside. It is like your heart’s way of kissing your face and comforting you.” She looked perplexed. “I was afraid to cry, I thought it made me weak or would upset others. Of all things, when I was pregnant with your Grandma Mackenzie, I couldn’t control it anymore. I remember being at a movie and seeing something beautiful and I cried. I thought tears were only for sadness, but there they were! My sister had just died and I had been sad a lot, but then something made me happy and my heart poured out of my eyes and kissed my face, just like yours is now. I had to start seeing pain as a gift, my love. If I hadn’t loved my sister, I wouldn’t have had pain in saying goodbye. It reminded me that I had loved and been loved in return, and that is all anyone can hope for.”
“Honey, you will say goodbye many times in your life as well. And no future love will seem worthy of a present love. I promise you, your heart will be light again someday. Not because you stopped loving me, but because you learned to love me, and that helped you to learn to love others. Your heart will overflow. There will come moments when you will ache for me, and when they come, I want you to imagine my arms around you like they are right now. I want you to allow yourself to cry and speak to me if you would like. And never ever be upset with yourself for this. Remember me, like you see me today. Someday you will be comforting another. See my life, it has had many heartaches, but it has had many joys. And here I am, at the end of this beautiful life, holding one of my joys. How can I be sad of the heartaches, when I have your heavenly blue eyes to gaze into?”
“It’s like a story, Great Grandma. On some pages happy things happen and other pages, sad things happen.”
“Yes, sweetheart, you are absolutely right. It is a story! It is my story, and your story. We each have one. What do you do when you are on a page and something sad happens?”
“Well, I sometimes stay there awhile. I don’t like it, and I don’t want to know if another bad thing happens. I will turn the page eventually.”
“Lilly, this is your story. If you need to stay on a page for a while, that is okay. The only thing that I ask is that you don’t stay on that page forever. When you are ready, turn the page and see what good things are in store.”
Lilly nestled in closer than humanly possible, her young soul soaking into my aged soul. She was quiet for a while and I allowed the reality to wash over me. I may never hold this sweet child again, while there is breath in my lungs. The sunlight poured in across our faces and I said a prayer, that she would find comfort in my words throughout her life. I have lived a long life. I have seen children grow, grandbabies, and great grandbabies born. Life has been rich, and while I have peace, a dull ache throbs within, of not being there to comfort and encourage those I love most.
A rustling at the door causes Lilly to look up at me and smile, once the twins giggle, we know that an ambush is about to take place. She is the eldest great grandchild and much sought after by the younger ones. Lilly ducks under my blanket just in time for the door to swing open and two little brunettes to come bounding in. “Where’s Lilly?” They say in unison. Lilly giggles against my chest and gives herself up. She pops out from under the blanket, “you found me! How did you find me?!” She says, goading them on.
“We tracked you!” says Corinne.
“Mhmm, yeah. We did. We walked around very quiet and checked each room we thought you might be in.” Betsy is delighted in her discovery and bravery throughout the course of the hunt.
Without hesitation the twins clumsily navigated the lumps under the covers and found themselves highly amused in the journey, pushing Lilly out of the way to find themselves nestled under each arm. Lilly good humoredly wraps her arms around Corinne and myself as I pull in Betsy. They chatter about the day. Their excitement of the days ahead gives me strength. My family has brought everyone dear to me, near to me. The end is inevitable, and what greater honor than to spend it with these treasures. Lilly and Betsy giggle at Corinne’s attempt to impersonate their serious Aunt Sue. I never knew that one could be so rich. Thank you, Lord. I whisper in my heart.