“Us, humans, all we have is each other.”
For a blog which came into being with a birth of a baby, it could be seen as slightly unusual to suddenly focus on a topic such as death. Yet, as we all know but tend to forget, birth and death are two different sides of the same coin – the coin of life, which we all dance on.
I have neglected this blog for a few weeks as I unexpectedly got very busy sitting, literally, at a near-death bed of someone I love. In an Intensive Care Unit of a local hospital, day after day. My father suffered a sudden heart attack one Monday morning in front of my eyes (and the eyes of my daughter), and was rushed to the hospital fighting for his life. I have never before been driven inside of a rushing ambulance, with a siren blazing, watching the paramedics cut through the morning traffic, with cars making room for us to pass, spreading like the sea. I have always been the one sitting in the cars below, the one moving away to let the ambulance through. And now I know how it feels being driven on the inside. Trust me, you don’t want to be there. If that ambulance ride has taught me anything, it is the overwhelming sense of gratitude to the drivers clearing the way for us. For all readers who do this – you have no idea how much it means to the people sitting (or lying) inside. Thank you.
The fact is, we are all likely to be either sitting next to someone or lying in an ambulance vehicle at least once in our lifetime, if we haven’t been there already. Feeling the threat of an imminent death, for yourself or someone you love, is somewhat impossible to describe until you are actually experiencing it. (The lack of words to describe this experience makes it somewhat similar to giving birth, or experiencing parenting in general. But I digress.)
Perhaps the closest I can now claim to be understanding of death is to say it feels like a void, a painful lonely space that remains vacant after an irreversible loss. Yet saying this and feeling it are two completely different matters. For many losses we experience in life, there is often a warm cushion of hope (no matter how realistic) of recovering what we had lost down the track – i.e. rekindling a relationship, regaining our health, job, place of residence, if we do or say the right thing. As time passes by, things may change for the better, and what was lost once upon a time could still be rekindled. Such is the feeling of hope. Yet, it is completely and utterly not so when someone you love dies. You don’t get a chance anymore to soften the loss by hearing news about someone through a third party, or rejoicing in their happiness from afar (say, if you aren’t close to them anymore). With death, there is suddenly no hope you will see them again in the future, and – perhaps worst of it all – you will never again hear their voice, hear their laughter. You might stare at their photos, or even have videos if you are lucky…but to hear them chuckle (unless you recorded it) – never again. It is utterly numbing. Death means the end of their presence on Earth, at least in the form where you can communicate, sense them. And the worst of it is, this irreversiblity of their vanishment can be instantaneously sudden, and you may have had zero chance of saying your goodbyes. Which, as final goodbyes often are with loved ones, means to simply say that you love them, in spite… and despite of everything. Telling them how much they mean to you.
Another thing I discovered, is that a threat of death strips away any remaining anger, all the way down to the cord of love and empathy that generally binds two human beings. The ones who have experienced a death of a loved one might relate to this. Arguments you have had in the past, along with disagreements – don’t matter anymore, when they are fighting for their life. Wrong decisions they made – don’t matter either. The stuff of life, such as the fact they were messy or annoying in some way – that too, pretty much completely vanishes. What remains is a sense of love and a new-found gentleness, deep understanding towards the other person based on a sense of shared humanness. Understanding of a shared imperfection and fragility.
And then, more. After a close-up brush with death – you realise that you will die too, one fine day. Death doesn’t discriminate. Living with that fact in mind seemed quite morbid to me before this experience, yet now it seems just simply realistic. It is perspective-changing, much like having a child. If we say that “nothing really matters” in the face of death, we are kind of partially right. Things we place a lot of value on – social status, work title, house you live in – they get more importance then it is deserved. At the bitter-sweet end, all that seems to matter are your relationships with all other beings in your life, especially the ones you love. So, allow me to be cheesy and a cliché for a second (in the hope you will have a long time before you have to experience for yourself that there is truth in this cliché) – to those you love, tell them so. (Especially your parents, as they may go before you actually expect them to, and we do take them for granted!). Don’t waste time letting anyone guess, hiding your feelings and of that CRAP. If you are feeling the love – be open, be honest, be vocal about it. It is the one thing you will not regret when your (or their) day comes.
Also, given you will die too, extend the courtesy of expressing this type of love to yourself as well. We all have our own personal hang-ups on things we “could have, should have done, differently, better, never have done”. The thing is though, it’s an utter waste of time. Just enjoy the time you have right now, and cut away the guilt about your past. The truth is – most of the time, noone really cares – but you. And when you die, then truly no one cares about what you did wrong by yourself, or others, as everyone will just be busy loving you, empathising with you and feeling that. So, try and find that love and empathy towards yourself now, and inhabit it.
Live authentically, speak authentically, love openly. And when mine, yours, anyone’s day comes, we will – hopefully – die happier, because we won’t have the last thought of “I should have told them that I loved them more often.” I hope we will also leave happier people behind us, those who knew that we cared, to mourn the loss of us.
P.S. If you made it this far in this post, you might be hanging on to hear how my dad is doing. Nearly miraculously, and thankfully, he is slowly getting better. After 10 days of induced coma, he woke up. He is currently still in hospital, doing rehab, and there will be consequences to what has happened – but, he is alive. His life coin has landed on the “right” side, this time.