I met a lady today. She was maybe ten years older than me. Her husband is suddenly on hospice after recognizing his lung cancer too late to do much more about it. I was just leaving coffee with buddy Chris Adams and a friend. He flagged me back as I was driving away, letting me know she had just run into him on her morning walk and could I talk to her? “Does she even want to?” I asked. I guess she did because I went back and talked with her for about an hour. I didn’t know how I could speak into her life because its only been a month since Vernon graduated from his own hospice. (And since we graduated from hospice ourselves.)
I didn’t know what I could give her, coming from this raw and irregular state I’ve been in. But there were two things I remember stressing for her. One was that she should come up with a sign for him, something to remind her that he would be watching her. I told her about the pigeons, the butterflies, the hawks. I told her that her husband’s body was a chrysalis and his spirit was in transition…that is why he seems to come and go from the state he is in. I told her that they don’t actually leave us when they go, but that they stay with us…she can honor the symbols she is seeing flying around her now. I don’t even know if everything I told her was true…but its been my experience thus far. I also sent a friend who plays music over her way. She has played music for another friend of mine whose mother was on hospice recently…and she has played for Vernon.
I realized I had this Death Team around me. Somehow, out of our experience, we had come up with (while not exactly, an expertise) a specialization of our own. A club. We don’t have the only corner on this, but we can speak with some authority. Everyone in my Vernon-tribe can. It’s the experience of dying and death and the after that we can draw on together. It sounds morbid, but I assure you, it is not. It’s just continuing the exploration of LIFE.
Apparently there are these things called Death Cafe’s. I knew it was an English thing immediately as the first detail on the website offers a place to eat cake and drink tea and talk about death. The point is: we aren’t used to talking about it. I’m still not sure if it is always in good taste. But its a space for people to talk about these things. I’m still not sure how we are supposed to do it.
Our chaplain, before I even had confirmation that Vernon was going to go (though I had an inkling), suggested to me that the purpose of our journey at that point was to show people how to go into death. I don’t know if that was true, but I ran with that purpose. I started blogging our experience and also putting up-to-dates on FaceBook. It probably wasn’t the English Way that Vernon’s family would have expected, but it was my way, at least what I had learned to do over this time.
Anyway, here we are. He has died, and we are figuring out how to talk about it. Who ever expected he would have pulled together a unit to try to express our feelings about this stuff while we are still in the land of the living? But here we are, alive, talking about it.