Me On Death and Dying

Last week the world lost an amazing man. I’ve written before about my BFF and her husband’s fight with Glioblastoma brain cancer. A week ago, he – Bill – finally said goodbye. I can’t imagine what my friend is going through right now. I mean, in the quiet spaces of the day (like now, for instance), I’m a fucking mess. And if I am a mess…well…anyway.

I started grieving months ago when we knew we were down to the final weeks. She and I were standing in her driveway when she told me they’d called in hospice to help with his care. My knees went weak, and I almost collapsed in her driveway from the flood of emotion and rage.

Yeah. Rage. It’s funny when that comes up so unexpectedly.

Even now, a week after his passing, I’ve been trying to wrap my head around why people who lie and cheat their way through life, come up with creative ways to avoid supporting their children, are just downright lazy as fuck, and full on assholes in general get to continue to walk the earth when someone who – by every stretch of the imagination – was just a fucking great human doesn’t get to anymore. Those folks – the amazing ones – don’t get to stick around? It hardly seems fair. And yes…I’m outraged. Really, really angry.

That said, I’ve been watching folks this week via Fakebook and Meal Train. In my observations, I have come to realize that when tragedy strikes, people really do want to help. They want to be useful to those who are grieving – even if they, too, are hurting. People immediately put their strengths and talents to work and practically BEG to have the chance to be part of someone’s healing process. And, in some way, maybe it helps with their grief process, too.

For example, I don’t do public emotion well in general – like ever. Additionally, I’ve got some real hang-ups when it comes to death and dying. I’ve watched my father whither away from lung cancer (PSA, stop smoking, Assholes), and I was standing by my brother’s bedside sixteen years ago when we took him off life support. And for the record…taking someone off life support is not at all like it looks on Grey’s Anatomy. It’s not at all peaceful as the line goes flat and the tone rings solid. Nope. The body seizes, releases fluids, and groans – even when they are supposed to be ‘without brain function.’ It is absolutely the worst thing in the world to witness, in my opinion. And…because of those two experiences…I just don’t handle illness, dying, and death well at all.

I’m not above emotions, though. I mean, I have them. I just have them alone – preferably with wine. I cried with my friend a few times, but that’s about it in terms of public display of emotion. Even as I was sitting visiting with Bill – a man I totally adored – in his final days, I found when the tightening of the throat began and the tears threated to fall, boy howdy…I got up real quick. For fuck’s sake…there has to be something in this house to clean, right?

This brings me back to my point of today’s ramblings. People. And their desire to be helpful. We all expect people to do certain things when a loved one dies. Some of us actually get pissed and pass judgment if someone doesn’t display enough emotion. I think it’s finally time to cut the crap on this sanctimonious judgment. People grieve, and people help in their own ways. Here are some of the ways I’ve watched people help this week:

1) Do what they do best. A mutual friend of ours has been mowing Bill’s lawn for the summer and recently refused to accept any more payments. Yes. He’s going to cut the grass for free. And this isn’t a man who is rolling in the dough, you know? So. Why? Because it makes him feel useful. It makes him feel like he’s helping. And, he IS helping. That’s the thing. He also is working on Bill’s motorcycle and will ride it in the funeral procession to honor our friend. Because he’s a good fucking person and has skills. The world needs more people like him. 

2) Clean and organize. Despite my inability to process death-related trauma, I am known for my organization skills and the ability to jump into action. I grabbed up some trash bags, rubber gloves, and boxes to start cleaning a room that could have qualified for an episode of Hoarders because a teenage boy had been living in it for a few years. I realized they might have company and may need this spare bedroom. I organized Meal Train because I’m techy. Why? Because it made me feel useful. I’m not the hand-holding hugger type when there is other shit to do. I’ll fall apart later. Again, alone…with wine.

3) Help financially or with meals. People send money, prepare food, and sign up to continue sending food well after the funeral. Why? (Really??)Because it makes them feel useful. Maybe they are too far away to come to the funeral or can’t get off work. But mailing a gift card or making a donation to help with groceries and preparing a freezer-friendly meal is always welcome. I am useless when it comes to cooking, so I am amazed at how many people have already signed up to help.

4) Some Swoop. Some people wait, hold back a bit. You know, let the dust settle and watch the family and friends go on with their lives. The Swoopers know, from experience, that people tend to forget about the pain and move on – quickly. It’s just human nature to do that. But, some of us know that while the first few weeks are overwhelmingly filled with cards and people and food and all the death-related courtesies, life doesn’t move on so quickly for those who have lost a loved one. No, it’s the weeks that follow…the third or fourth month…the first holiday without them…those are some of the hardest to bear alone. So they swoop in then…when it seems everyone else has forgotten. I, myself, am a swooper.

My point today is: If you ever find yourself in a situation like my friend is in now – feeling utterly lost without the one person that always steadied you when you needed it the most – please let people help. And try to realize (I know…the fog…but try…)that some people aren’t present now, but most likely will be in the right moment when you need it the most. And if you are a ‘fly-in now and get it over with’ type of helper…it’s okay to spread that love out, you know. The dead are gone forever…but the loss of that loved one for those of us still around…well…we are still around.

As for me, tonight I’m going to build a fire – because Bill taught me how to nearly a year ago when I put it on my bucket list. And I’m finally going to learn to shoot that gun (another bucket list thing). Even though I wanted and planned for Bill, a decorated Army Vet, to teach me – he was still proud of me a week ago when I told him I had signed up for an introductory handgun class. He said to me, “Sorry, but I fear I might miss seeing you shoot.” I didn’t mention that he probably wasn’t going to miss much. Also, I have strange beliefs surrounding the paranormal, and I think he’ll be right there with me if I ask him to be. So. There’s that.

I’m going to close out today. I know the topic is heavy. Life gets like that sometimes, and I appreciate you sticking with me – all twelve of you. And I’m going to leave you with this song because one, I never saw Bill with shoes on, and two, he loved the water as much as I do. It reminds me of him every time. 

The first fire I built all by myself after Bill taught me how to use the ‘Tepee Method’

For my friend…if you made it this far…I sure do love you. And I’m already planning my ‘swoops.’ I will not leave you high and dry. You have my word. {Hugs}. 

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