The mostly dead
With his birthday coming up and almost two years since his death from cancer, I finally feel like I am able to be humorous about the overall topic of death and, more specifically, my experience with witnessing the death of my Dad…and all that led up to it and is yet to come.
While this post may be sad at times, and there remains a forever hole in my heart in his absence, I’m ready for the dark humor; an attempt to throw some glitter on that death hump, honey, and talk about the ugly, while having a laugh at the same time. (Here is an excellent and short video by my Ayurvedic teacher, (who also is a therapist), about how to heal that forever hole should you be interested).
As soon as you find out that someone you love is dying, this is when the grieving process begins- not after they die, as most of us might be led to believe. The five stages of grief begin the moment you become aware of impending, absolute, inevitable death. Coming to grips with this, i.e. the “acceptance” stage, is perhaps the worst part of the entire process. (As far as stages go, I have found that our paths are not always linear…and that is okay!)
Get ready to be a disappointment in their eyes. Remember, they are dying and are not “all there”. So, when they are told that they can no longer drive and they think that they made a deal with you, “the cool one”, who will let them drive anyway and not tell on them, but then they take off and are “missing” for a while, and you are nervous because you don’t know if they forgot where they are, don’t know what day it is, hit a pedestrian, or are simply at the nearest Mc Donald’s for their usual- a coffee and the paper, and you have to “tell on them” for their own safety and that of the public, so you do the hard thing and call the cops, but after they arrive home safely, hide them when the cops show up so they do not know how much of a rat you really were. Filthy rat. Yeah. You might be a big disappointment! Huge.
If your situation was similar to mine and you are not a millionaire or wealthy by any means, then you and your family will be divvying up the care-taking responsibilities for your loved one like objects at an auction. There may be someone, (probably the person living closest to the almost or mostly dead loved one or someone without small children and a more flexible job), that might be doing more than others. This will wear on them. They might let you know this. They might not. If you are physically and emotionally able, do your part to help to the best of your ability. For our family, this meant taking shifts, making meals, dispensing meds, helping to bathe him…I even made a large, bright and sunny calendar to put on the fridge for my Pops to see every day, complete with simple daily tasks and an inspirational quote or two: “I know you’re dying, but how about this picture of a cat…it says hang in there. Huh, huh?!” (As I elbow him annoyingly) I should have just made one like this for him. At least it might have brought him a chuckle or two.
They will say funny things like make premonitions about your future- “You will be doing so much writing and research”, (what?!), or be completely contradictory- say Obama was “actually a good president”, when they in fact were a staunch Republican and Bush lover, or do something random- Om a lot out of nowhere. I regret not getting these on film and/or at least voice recordings. Whip out those smart phones and get ready for the magic!
There will be shit. If you are a parent, pet owner or have dealt with the mostly dead yourself, you know this. It’s like having that puppy, kitten, or toddler all over again. I will never forget the day I saw my Dad shuffling through the house with his saggy jeans on, leaving poop trails as he meandered down the stairs, with this smirk on his face that can only be likened to that of a toddler who just took a dump in the cat box and is dying inside, just waiting for you to find it. Yeah, death is the shit. Literally.
Let them drink all the alcohol and eat all the edibles. Well, not all of them. Then they’ll end up glued to the wall, afraid that if they move, they will fall off said wall and down through the floor, into the bog of eternal stench. For my Pops, it was margaritas and pot cookies…often times mixed in or substituted with lemonade and regular ‘ole chocolate chip cookies so the above situation did not happen…again. Keeping track of which ones were the real ones was always fun, like a game of scratch and sniff. And he always knew the difference. Always. And would let us know with a begrudged smirk and side eye, but ate and drank anyway, like the good little “patient” that he was.
Talk about it with them. I was robbed of this unfortunately, because my Pops, being the sweet but very stubborn man that he was, would not talk about the fact that he was dying with any of us. Now that I am a parent, I get it. That would be an impossibly hard conversation to have with my daughter or son, but I would like to think I would do it anyway, at least for their sake, so they would know we were all in this together and to validate the very real and difficult experience that we were all going through, in our own unique ways.
Have those hard to do things done, and again, divvy them up- will, POA, access to all accounts- emails, passwords, banks, etc. This is the small but tedious and time-consuming stuff that I found stressful to have to deal with after the fact.
Get hospice involved as soon as you can. I feel like these people must have to endure the world’s worst obstacle course in order to be deemed worthy enough to serve as a hospice worker. Running in the heat, tripping on tires, wading through mud, all the while, everything from blood, sweat, tears, urine, feces, obscenities, and spit are all being thrown at them. Like the slime and obstacle course from the show, Double Dare , but on steroids and with the mostly dead.
Find some way to be with your family and the mostly dead as they are actively dying. Even if you cannot physically be there, (for whatever reason), find a way to become involved in some manner. Your soul will thank you later.
GIVE yourself time.
LOTS of time.
ALL the time.
When you are ready, do something meaningful as a means of closure- spread their ashes, (perhaps not on a windy day whilst standing on a cliff?), take them with you on a road trip, talk to them every night before you go to sleep…whatever works for you and has meaning to you.
Find ways to keep them in your life. Perhaps this means celebrating their birthday’s, writing letters to/from them when you need advice, talking loudly to them in the grocery store as if they are standing right next to you, for all to see…whatever floats your boat, do it. No judgments.
You will forget what they look like at times. This is “normal” and okay, but really, really, REALLY hard. Sometimes I need a picture to remind me of what he looked like when he was happy. Sometimes all I can see when I close my eyes are his hands, and how I held them after he died, never wanting to let them go.
Write about it. Even if it’s a letter to yourself, to them, or a detailed account of everything that you went through, whatever…it will not only serve as a cathartic experience for you, but as a way to remember the rawness of it all and what really went down so when you become the mostly dead yourself, all old and senile, taking a joy ride against all better judgment, leaving poop trails across the floor, it might just seem like a bad case of deja vu.
And, lastly. GIVE YOURSELF TIME. ALL THE TIME. AGAIN WITH THE TIME. And I don’t mean Morris Day & the Time, but let’s just throw them in for good measure.