The Bittersweet Spot of Dying
I’d like to die in your house.
That’s all my father said. We were driving home from the hospital after one of his radiation treatments. We weren’t talking, just riding in silence as we did most days. So, I was shaken out of my driving reverie by the sound of his voice first. Then, the meaning of his words sank in. He was the quintessential man of few words. I was used to translating Sid-speak as I had done for most of my life. I knew the full meaning of those 7 words. “I’d like to die in your house” meant he was going to stay with me, my husband and my three little girls for whatever time he had left. It also meant he had no intention of going back to a hospital under any circumstances. Finally, and I mean that literally, finally he meant he would pass away in my house. To insure that, he basically never left my house. He wasn’t taking any chances that he might accidentally die somewhere else. So he just stayed in for the next 7 weeks until his expiration date.
But this post isn’t about how sad it was to lose my dad. It’s about how sweet it was to spend that time together. How wonderful it was to share that poignant time when you actually almost know your expiration date so much so that you can hear the clock ticking. For you caregivers out there, I know the pain and the hard work you are dealing with. But I also know that there is a reward. Seek it out now, while there is still time.
My dad’s last days were beautiful for all of us. We played with my kids, we played cards, we watched movies, we sat outside and marveled at sunsets, we talked a bit, but not too much. (See above about the man of few words. That didn’t change even with his knowing his words were numbered.) I had a chance to ask a few questions I had been wondering about and he had the chance to give me information previously withheld. He had been a private guy but maybe towards the end he felt he no longer had to protect his privacy. Secrets kept and feelings held back could be set free and he did a bit of that. We had time to share things we had put off because life just kept us too busy to spend time doing stuff that didn’t seem to matter much. We looked at his coin collection, taking the time to do the research on some of the coins we wanted to know more about. Previously, those searches had to wait for another day when there was more time. But that day never came and now, knowing there really wasn’t ever going to be more time, we just stopped putting it off and did it.
It can be lovely, spending the end of life with someone you love. Yes, you know you’re going to suffer their loss but don’t suffer it while they’re still here. Do the little stuff, ask the questions, enjoy the waning days, look for the moments to share and just be together. Don’t spend the whole time crying. You can do that later. While you can still find reasons to smile together, do so. You’re in the sweet spot, enjoy it, it won’t last forever but the memory will.