Leaving What And Who We Love
“When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”
– Kahlil Gibran
Have you ever been on a vacation and you loved wherever you were so much that you didn’t want to leave? That happened to me last week when I was on the island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas. The beaches were some of the most beautiful I have ever seen on this planet of ours…clear turquoise waters with pale pink sand.
Most days, I had the entire beach to myself. I’d just float in the water, letting the sea soothe my rather weary soul. It feels as if I’ve cried an ocean of tears this past year…that’s the way some years roll, I guess 🙁
But I am very glad I had the intuitive wisdom to rest up in Eleuthera, for there was more sadness ahead.
December 3rd would’ve been my Mom’s 89th birthday. A few years ago, my family took her on a cruise to Alaska and we had an absolute riot! But when the time came for us to leave, she was bawling her eyes out behind her big white sunglasses. I asked her what the heck was wrong.
“I don’t want to leave!” she cried. “I’ve had so much fun that I don’t want the holiday to end. I don’t want it to be over.”
At the time, I didn’t get it. I mean, she loved her life back home…why wouldn’t she want the cruise to end?
But then last week, when the time came for me to leave Eleuthera and fly back to my hometown of Calgary for another farewell to a much-loved family member, I got it alright. As I swam for the last time in the ocean, I realized I did NOT want to leave. I didn’t want the holiday to end. And I certainly didn’t want to leave my peaceful little paradise to return to the cold, harsh reality of yet another death in the family.
But then, after a good cry in my cute little condo, it hit me: maybe that’s what dying is like, too? I mean, it must so difficult for a soul to leave the body, for they are not only leaving their life behind but all their loved ones, home and cherished belongings as well. Just as the living find it heart-wrenchingly difficult to say goodbye to the dying, so too must it be incredibly tough for the dying to leave all that they love.
When I arrived in Calgary, Stacey (the sister of my husband, John, who passed away 14 years ago) picked me up at the airport and took me to the hospital to see their Mom (“Mrs P”), who was in a coma. After dealing with lymphoma for 9 years, her body had finally had enough and she’d lost consciousness a few days earlier. The medical staff were keeping her comfortable as her body shut down. This meant that Stacey, her brother, Pete, and all their family and friends had been able to say goodbye.
I spent that night in hospital, holding Mrs P’s hand, talking to her and carefully listening for any changes in her breathing. She was on the homestretch but nobody knew exactly when she was going to reach the finish line. The next day, there was a small group of us by her side the entire day. We cried and talked, shared stories and laughed over funny memories – for there are so many.
Then, after the busyness of the day had ended and there were only a few of us left in the room, Mrs P took her final few breathes. Her passing was peaceful, graceful and courageous…just like her.
I think she knew she had to leave and she’d accepted that – but I don’t think she wanted to. Thankfully, she was able to spend her last day with people she loved – and who loved her – very much. One last family get-together, complete with yummy food, to send her on her way.
When my own Mom died in March, we didn’t get the chance to say goodbye, or hold her hand as she passed away, because she died so suddenly. I know my Mom didn’t want to leave either. Her body was giving out but her spirit – her love of life – was as strong as ever. And I don’t think that ever dies.
In contrast, when my beloved old dog, Soda, died in May, I was right there on the floor of the vet clinic with her when she took her final breath. I held her fluffy little white paw as she passed away and although hers was also a peaceful passing, I know for a fact that if she’d had any say in the matter, she wouldn’t have left either. But we all have to go – and I suppose the best we can hope for is a peaceful parting after a life well lived.
For despite the heartache and the tears, the sickness and the sorrow, this life is beautiful indeed. Perhaps one of the greatest lessons death can teach us is that our time here is finite, so it’s in our best interest to laugh more than we cry – even in our grief. For as Kahlil Gibran so wisely observed: “When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”
Maryanne Pope is the CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions and Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund. She is the author of A Widow’s Awakening, the playwright of Saviour and the executive producer of the documentary, Whatever Floats Your Boat…Perspectives on Motherhood. If you would like to receive Maryanne’s weekly blog, please sign up here.