Letting go of the ones we love is probably one of the most difficult things we humans have to endure. It’s never easy, and the way is fraught with doubt, fear, and hopeful wishes. The challenge for each of us is recognizing that no matter how badly we want something else to be happening, what really is happening is that our loved one is dying. And they will die with or without us.
We feel powerless. We want to put on a cheery face and a gird ourselves with a brave demeanor – stiff upper lip, and all that. Maybe we think that helps. Truthfully, it doesn’t. Being is what helps. Just being.
Rather than thinking of something brave, chipper, or clever to say, why not just say,
“Shit. I don’t even know what to say. I’m sorry.”
Being that honest and that vulnerable is what helps, and there’s nothing else like it in the world that will support being with your loved one every step of the way. Even to the final breath.
Yes, it hurts like hell.
But it’s worth it.
A couple of weeks before she died, Dee was dealing with anger, regret, and other difficult emotions and unresolved feelings. I remember a moment of awful clarity during which I realized that as I struggled with losing her, she struggled with losing everything. That moment was a turning point for me in being able to hold space for everything she needed to express.
This poem, written the day after she died, describes my last few hours with her.
Little Sister, 1959 – 2009
“The Man in the Moon is really a Woman,” I said,
And she smiled knowingly, sharing my secret.
Then she read to me from her Magic Book:
“There’s a blue fish.”
“And there’s a red fish.”
And I wept them into the river – she always did love Dr. Seuss.
I marveled with her through that last day as she reviewed her life and memories –
“It’s coming in bits and pieces, but I need more time; I’m not ready.”
“I’m not afraid to die, just afraid of the journey to get there.”
“Don’t be afraid, Baby Duck,” I whispered, kissing her head.
“You’ll know when you’re ready, just in time and not too soon.”
“Okay, thank you.” Nodding, a little girl again, believing me.
Then in little bits and pieces she shared her precious life with me again.
Emotions flickering over her face on fast forward – too fast for me.
Whispers, insights, sorting, shaking out, cleansing one by one.
I watched her check off each; an internal list, the final pages of her Magic Book.
“Okay, sissie, it’s time. Can you put my jeans on me?” Breathy, gasping.
I asked her if she was going to travel and she nodded again,
Wiggling her feet, whispering, “I want to wear my jeans.”
I pulled magic jeans over her frail legs, asking if she liked them.
And she smiled. The world is a great place when you wear magic jeans.
They must be like Superman underwear – they make you stronger, more able.
Holding her, reassuring, encouraging her to fly away,
I blew purple butterflies into her heart and then she was gone.
Valerie Lovelace, January 2009