How do you ask a strong, smart, and independent woman about her end-of-life plans? Not any random woman it’s your wife of 28 years. What to ask was clear. Did she have any plans? Did Donna want me to do anything for her funeral? What should we do?
How to ask her and what to expect was not clear.
Donna was in hospice with end stage cancer. At this point in her disease the word funeral or death was not like being caught in the downpour of a sudden summer shower. This entire topic of death for three plus years was the sticky humidity of New Orleans in July, plastering clothing to your skin. It was ever present; felt in the wet matted shirt on your back, reveled in the sheen of sweat on your forehead, never that thunderstorm of sudden insight or death. That was until 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. She is dying and I am alive. 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, do you want to talk about your funeral.” “Do you want to talk about your life?”
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, do not tolerate fools gladly, with no doubt about what was needed. She was not dead yet
This discussion happened six days prior to Donna’s death. My grief was in full bloom and thriving, an orchid finding nourishment from the memories of our life together. The grief 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 to this day. Many may see this as a failure to launch myself away from the pain. Start chapter two. You know that whole finding closure idea, closure is denial said pretty. Closure is indifference. I will not deny my grief because it denies Donna.
There is More to Grief
Grief is an artesian aquifer that lies deep within us in a dormant state. It flows up between the cracks of our bedrock memories when a loved one dies. This aquifer of grief is part love and part light. It holds a subtle promise to quench our loss and sustain us.
Grief flows through the cracks between our memories of the past and hopes for the future. Memories and hope 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 newness within us offering a fresh look that what was, what is, and what may be. If you choose not shy away from it or ignore it. Grief 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 now does not exist. It moves with us, becomes dullness, and if we allow it becomes a glow-stick. I partner with my grief embracing its strength to create new.
That is what I do but more to my premise our grief is a light within us to guide us to a better understanding of what was, is, and will be.