How do you ask your wife of 28 years who was strong, smart, and independent about her end-of-life plans? Did she have any? Did Donna want me to do anything for her funeral? What should we do?
Donna was in hospice with end stage disease. At this point in her disease the word funeral or death is nothing like being caught in the downpour of a sudden summer shower. This entire topic for three plus years was the sticky humidity of New Orleans in July, plastering clothing to your skin. It was present, felt like the wet matted shirt on your back, reveled in the sheen of sweat on a forehead, but never a thunderstorm. That is my memory of August 1, 2011.
“Now would be a good time to have end-of-life discussions with Donna,” the Hospice Rabbi said. “What does she want for her funeral? What are her regrets? Did she find joy in her life?”
Joy? I failed her. All I could do was think of that.
I hesitated for a day. Then next afternoon, alone in the room with Donna, I looked at her in the bed and said, “Donna, perhaps you want to talk about your funeral.”
She looked over at me and said, “Don’t be a maudlin pussy.” Then she rolled onto her side and fell asleep.
I smiled. That was the woman I married 28 years ago, life and death on her terms, her way, take no prisoners, with no doubt about what was needed. She was not dead yet.
This discussion happened ten days prior to Donna’s death. My grief was in full bloom and thriving, an orchard finding nourishment from the memories of our life together. It took seed when she was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer two plus years earlier. After she died it sunk it roots deep and remains part of me. Many may see this as a failure to launch myself away from the pain. You know that whole finding closure deal, which is denial said pretty. Indifference. I will not deny my grief because it denies Donna.
Grief has a place and a purpose
There is more to grief. Let me defend grief, specifically defend my grief and hopefully yours. Grief is life’s artesian aquifer. It flows from within, bored out by the loss of a loved one. It is equal parts love and light. It holds promise to satisfyingly quench our loss. To sustain us.
Grief should not be seen as a proper place or an improper place. It is the space between memories of the past and hope for the future. Those are points on a compass that guides me. At times the grief may be soft and subtle or hard and painful. No matter, it creates a newness within us offering a fresh look that what was, what is, and what may be. If you choose to not shy from grief or ignore it can open up new knowledge and new understanding.
I have written about grief and will continue to. Grief has its own narrative arc and begins as numbing recognizing that what once existed is now did exist. It moves with us, becomes a dullness. It traps us in emotional amber. I partner with my grief embracing its strength to create new. I would call it a glow-stick.
That is what I do but, more to my point our grief is light within us. It can guide us to a better understanding of what was, is, and will be.