Theirs is a lonely journey; to be moving towards the separation and end of all things known and loved.
Being with a dying person is challenging; it penetrates through discomfort seeking honesty and courage. It brings you confrontationally into the present which is shocking for many. But if you spend time with the dying you’ll find that their needs are not so different from ours, only they have a limited time to fulfill them.
A dying person needs to be heard, comforted and forgiven. A dying person yearns to connect with the world they are leaving behind. A dying person needs to make peace with the life they have lived. A dying person needs to be encouraged and allowed to say good-bye. If we while living, could be mindful of all that we will inevitably wish to have fulfilled when our time comes, dying would not be so difficult. The more we contemplate dying, the easier it is to be ready to die.
Supporting my husband while he was dying was terrifying at first. I was always anxious from the uncertainty and exhausted from having too many responsibilities. I felt trapped in a bubble with no future; I wasn’t dying or living, just ‘on hold’ waiting for the end. Staying positive and alert became my new occupation. But, somehow I got used to it. I stopped feeling helpless and learned how to become attentive to JP’s every need. Somehow he was so grateful for every little thing I did that I thought he was comforted to be going through it together. The truth is, dying people travel towards death alone and with each breath almost imperceptibly, they move out of your reach leaving you behind.
JP lived every day knowing how he wanted to die; serving others and conscious of the Divine. Since he was already doing both, he wasn’t caught off guard when the diagnosis came. He simply looked at me and said, “I just wish I didn’t have to leave you yet”. For years he had been developing a spiritual compass which now guided and helped him to navigate the challenges of cancer treatment, pain and physical deterioration. Knowing he had incurable brain cancer drove him to dive deeper into his meditation and spiritual practices and accelerated his determination to be poised mentally and emotionally to pass gracefully from this world.
There were often moments of course when he was scared, despondent and tired of hanging on, but he always emerged from the bad moments more surrendered to the journey and they became resources and realisations to share with others. In the end, the best way I could support him was to ensure that he could die the way he wanted to; still serving others and constantly meditating on the Divine.
It’s been 3 years since JP left and I’m much less resistant to the painful memories. I’m learning to treasure them because they are part of our story and I want to remember and embrace all of it. As I continue to meditate on and describe the final, most difficult pages of our story, I know I will uncover the beauty and fullness of meaning in his passing. It will illuminate my life and I hope yours too.
Now, when I remember my husband’s life and death, I remember an inspiring story that had a beautiful ending.
Taruni Tan is a music therapist.
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