From the moment we depart the safe, warm womb of our mothers, we are taught and encouraged to embrace life’s opportunities with deep appreciation. A list of learning experiences are recalled: from the simplistic—crawling, walking, talking, learning to ride a bike and baiting a fish hook, to the more complex—developing integrity, loyalty, compassion and wisdom. Additionally, great effort is taken to educate us about birth, childhood milestones, interpersonal relationships, religion and the importance of family. Isn’t it rather odd that little is done to educate us about death and dying?
What happens? What doesn’t happen? Which emotions do the dying experience? Which emotions do the survivors experience? Are those emotions appropriate and acceptable? Where does the body and spirit go after death? Who can help guide us through the process? Why is the initial dying experience traumatic, gradually leading to a peaceful awakening?
During a restful sleep, one I hadn’t had in nearly two weeks, a rhythmic chanting had awakened me in the middle of the night. The verbiage was similar to those heard as a child, attending a Native American celebration on a neighboring island near the family home in Algonac. It had a definite rhythm and an equally identifiable language that left no question in my mind that communication was taking place; clearly spoken and understood despite no formal language instruction. In addition to this exchange, there was reference to an Angel, whose name could not be recalled, who wore an Indian decoration around her neck. Was this a gift from the heavens? Was this a spiritual guide? Was this a presence helping him through this world and into the next? Truth be told—yes. An overwhelming sense of relief and comfort to my spirit; knowing he was not going alone.
Many lessons can be learned from this experience thus far. And that is what learning is about—gaining knowledge from an experience and digesting the various lessons it has to offer. In regards to the knowledge and lessons ascertained, one does not actually learn from the encounter until fully experienced and the objectives achieved.
Lessons to Remember
Tell the ones you Love that you Love them.
Keep your family close to your heart.
Let your loved ones know your wishes.
Have your daily affairs in order.
Be at peace with your maker.
Work and play equally.
Have no ill-will toward others.
Resolve to make the best of every day.
Don’t be too proud to say you’re sorry.
Give more to others than you request in return.
Ask for help and support in your hour of need.
Laughing and crying simultaneously is normal.
There is plenty to be said about dying with dignity; without pain and while maintaining a good quality of life. Allowing a loved one to die with dignity must be the primary goal despite the humanistic urge to grasp firmly onto them. The dying expected to live life with dignity—why shouldn’t they have the opportunity to leave this world and enter the next in the same fashion?
No amount of radiation, chemotherapy, insulin, parental nutrition, electrolyte therapy, antibiotics or blood transfusions would allow him to live the life he was accustomed to. He had a terminal illness that would take his life within a matter of days. How does one guide a family into making difficult choices given the humanistic urge to do everything medically possible to sustain life? Somehow or another you do; no matter what it takes and with the guidance of the dying. Knowing what he would have wanted was indispensable and provided immense emotional relief.
The power of prayer and faith has never been understood. From the onset of childhood we are taught about a superior being with extraordinary powers, but to actually believe cannot be fully explained. This particular night he was having difficulty breathing, appeared agitated and suffering greater pain than the afternoon prior. The night was spent in the hospital chapel in prayer; asking for things to happen; let him go fishing in peace, let him be pain-free, let him know that we’ll survive without him, let him understand that he was our rock, let him know that we’ll unite to form a large emotional rock for each other, and finally…just let him go. After hours of asking, I opened the Bible and it unmistakably spoke to me. The verse indicated that I didn’t have to tell God what my concerns were—HE already knew—all I needed to do was pray. The next morning, at approximately 9am, he drew his last breath of air. I celebrated his peaceful passing and the assurance that I shall never forget my dad; for my parents rejoiced, exactly 35 years earlier in the birth of a daughter and named her Tina Louise.
A sturdy, tall man with the same distinct facial features shared with his father and uncles. He had a booming voice that demanded respect. It was also filled with energy, happiness, kindness and when needed—sternness. He provided his children with the tools necessary to survive in this world; work ethic, courage, respect, strength, common sense, loyalty and love. He allowed us to make our mistakes, watched us recover from those mistakes and expected us to learn from them. His girlfriend and wife of 40 years always guided him on the decisions he made. He was a talented man; a custom contractor, furniture craftsman, boat builder, carver and artist. He was comfortable with whom he was and the clothes he wore. He was Chuck and if you didn’t like it—there was the door.
Growing up, you believe, at times, that your parents are not the most intelligent creatures in the world. As you mature, develop relationships, enter the working world, have children of your own…you are subjected to what they have already experienced. You realize that it isn’t an easy job—in fact, it is often a thankless job and you finally appreciate that everyone makes mistakes along the way. Learning from those mistakes and releasing time-hardened misunderstandings provides true emotionally cleansing; bringing about an enormous sense of relief. To understand and forgive is awesome.
Grateful—glad to have had the opportunity to be present during the last days and hours of his life. The chance to hold his hand, wipe his brow, comfort him in his hour of need. A moment to look into his eyes; ensure each other that love and understanding was always present without words. The offering to say thank you and the gift to say goodbye.