Can we talk? – Part 2 | Dear Diane

by Elouise

Diane’s opening lines in Part 1 are loaded:  “I am dying.   Sooner rather than later.”  Her entire piece is available here.  The following letter is my response to her.

Dear Diane,
Your question and opening lines get right to the point.

I’ve been thinking about our family of origin and your immediate family.  From my perspective, they’re light-years apart when it comes to talking in general.

For example, I can’t imagine us as children sitting around the kitchen or dinner table, chomping down food, elbows on the table, no table police, no pressure to talk or not talk.  Just space to be filled.  Which it was, most of the time when I was visiting.  Not forgotten—the yapping dogs happily joining in all things related to food and table fellowship!

Then there’s talk about death and dying.  David and I made our first wills in the 1990s because we were about to travel overseas together.  I recall how uncomfortable I was just filling out the will itself.  It felt good to have them completed and notarized.

We didn’t, however, fill in all the paperwork that goes along with the wills.  A few years ago we finally completed all the forms.  Then we had conversations with our adult children and their spouses.  Easy?  No.  Rewarding?  Yes!  I credit your work with galvanizing me to get this done, including conversations with our children.

This week I got out my end of life directives, reviewed what I’d written, and made several revisions. I hadn’t anticipated doing this.  But I got thinking about what I’d witnessed with you and with each of our parents during the last weeks of your lives.  I had to admit that I’d assumed more than I could count on.

In particular, some of my directives assume I’ll be able to speak clearly.  I don’t know that.  Neither you nor Mother could speak; Dad could speak but wasn’t always coherent.  Yet my directives say, “I wish to have selections of my favorite music played or sung regularly until my time of death.”

The statement assumes (1) I’ll be able to ask for certain pieces of music, or (2) that my caregiver will already know what my favorites are!  So I reworded it a bit and am creating a list of favorite pieces, artists and genres that I would enjoy hearing.

I watched Dad pick out music for Mother to listen to as she lay waiting for her death.  Sometimes he got it right; other times he just didn’t know what to pick.  One more thing to think about and ‘get right.’  Too much pressure for anyone to bear.

Maybe I’m wrong about this, but it seems one of the most daunting parts of dying is that we don’t know who will be attending to us or how they’ll treat us.  I can say what kinds of visitors I wish to have and don’t wish to have, but my choices are small when it comes to medical or hospice care staff or even the place of my death.

I think I’m trying to say that giving up control over the way I die is disconcerting.  After all, with regard to David and me, I don’t want to go first;  I also don’t want to be left.

Furthermore, I fear being treated like an old woman who doesn’t have a voice or a personality or reasons to remain any longer.  I also have work to do about not feeling guilty if I linger.  I can hardly believe I feel this way, yet it’s easy enough to imagine.  The voice says, ‘You should just move on and get out of the way.  Others need attention—others who will surely live beyond you.  Don’t be so selfish!’

When you died, a friend gave me a small book.  It’s called For Those We Love But See No Longer:  Daily Offices for Times of Grief.  It’s organized with readings for each day of the week, three sets of readings for each day.  Either  groups or individuals can use the book.  I used it on my own.  Over and over.

One of the readings includes a quotation from Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  I loved it from the beginning, and have grown to appreciate it more in the weeks I’ve been posting your pieces and writing my Dear Diane responses.  Here it is:

Nothing can make up for the absence of someone whom we love, and it would be wrong to try to find a substitute; we must simply hold out and see it through.  That sounds very hard at first, but at the same time it is a great consolation, for the gap, as long as it remains unfilled, preserves the bonds between us.  It is nonsense to say that God fills the gap; God doesn’t fill it, but on the contrary, keeps it empty and so helps us to keep alive our former communion with each other, even at the cost of pain.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in Letters and Papers from Prison, p. 176,
edited by Eberhard Bethge.  Published by Collier Books (New York, 1972)

No one can or will ever take your place in my heart.  I don’t want to get over the gaping hole and move on.  Instead, I want to listen to you and follow your lead—no matter where it takes me.

Love and hugs,

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 November 2014

For Those We Love But See No Longer: Daily Offices for Times of Grief, by The Rev. Lisa Belcher Hamilton, published by Paraclete Press, © 2001 by The Rev. Lisa Belcher Hamilton