Today I’ve done everything – except write in this greeting card. It’s kind of a sympathy card, but I’m trying for it not to be, because I’m sending it to a friend of mine who’s dying.
I chose the card several days ago. Something neutral. Peaceful. With an image that my friend can read any metaphor into. Or none.
I printed out a photo of myself to include, so this distant friend could see my face once again before she dies. We haven’t seen each other in what seems like forever.
Then I set it aside to let my mind work on finding the perfect words. Because these are the last words I’ll be able to share with her.
The next few days were very busy, but last night I put the card at the top of my To Do list for today, since it’s a day off.
But, what have I done today? I’ve done three batches of laundry. Washed dishes. Tidied up here and there. Raked a bunch of autumn leaves. Spent hours on the phone with tech support about an issue that could have waited. And walked with my dog for over an hour.
In other words, I spent all day successfully avoiding sitting down to write my final message to my friend.
Now I’m listening to my favorite radio show, because it’s one of the things that fill my soul so I can continue to do the work I do. But that means melodies and lyrics are filling my head, the musicians’ images and feelings pushing aside my own. I’ll head to bed as soon as the show’s over, and tomorrow’s another busy day. So it looks like the card won’t make it into the mail for another day or two.
What’s going on here? Can you guess?
Have you ever done something like this? Or maybe thought about calling someone who’s seriously ill but kept putting it off?
It could be discomfort about death. Or inexperience with people who are dying.
That might be true for many people, but neither of those apply to me. Talking honestly with people who know they’ll die soon is part of my work. I’ve been at the bedside of plenty of people as they breathed their last breath. And I’ve been with many families of just-deceased loved ones to offer support and comfort.
Nope. It’s something else.
Something beyond the thinking brain. Something deeper than the act of simply writing out a card to send to a dying friend.
I was surprised when I realized what it was, but it makes perfect sense. In a beyond-the-rational kind of way.
To understand, you need to know that that there’s a part of me – and of you, and of everyone – that works below the surface. A part that many of us were taught as kids to disregard, perhaps even to laugh at. It’s the part that’s in touch with a world where absolutely anything is possible. Even the things that aren’t possible in everyday reality, in our day-to-day lives. That part of me has dug in its heels. It’s gone on strike to get my attention.
What does it want me to know? What does it want me to do? (Or in this case, not do.)
It wants me to set aside the grown-up part of me that knows I should send a card, and pay attention to the fact that I don’t want my friend to die. It wants me to never send the card, so that my friend will never die.
Finally getting the message, I dissolve into tears, sobbing and pacing, pacing and sobbing. Of course I don’t want my friend to die. Oh, how I wish I could keep her from dying! My griefstorm turns into a temper tantrum. As if my anger could stop death’s hand. Then more sobbing. I stay there for quite some time, raging at the unfairness of my friend’s impending death.
I’m spent now from crying and raging. I know that I can’t keep my friend from dying, but now I know what was immobilizing me. I’m going to bed now. Maybe in the morning that small, quiet voice will un-dig her heels and let me write the card.
(I wrote this last week. My friend died Monday, peacefully, surrounded by her friends and pets.)