Sometimes we wonder why people choose the worst possible time to visit us, as in when we’re looking and feeling our worst. Well, a short, logical answer is that they may believe this is our last illness and they want to make sure they get to see us and share a moment together before we pass on to the Great Beyond.
That, of course, may or may not be the actual case, as many people either go on to recover — or linger far longer than anyone expected.
Putting yourself in the ill person’s shoes, any such devastating illness is always a call to those who know and love you — whether or not they showed it much while you were up and around and participating in ordinary life, as they still are.
Many people are not very expressive under ordinary day-to-day circumstances: they may never once have used the “L” word and actually told you they loved you; yet now, with all the many years’ worth of feelings unexpressed still left unspoken, they may feel it is time indeed to speak what’s in their heart — or at least show it with a pot of chicken soup or an Italian casserole.
Very few people like to talk about death, likely because they feel there is little if anything they can do about it. I am not one of them. Death is probably the most natural part of life, albeit not the one at the top of anyone’s list. We accept pain, even mental and psychological pain, as well as physical suffering; we (most people) accept paying taxes, even putting up with the intrusive, annoying, and overbearing hand of the IRS. We accept the hundreds of mishaps of life, from getting a flat tire, to having to file bankruptcy, to losing the love of our life to another. But death? Please…let’s talk about something else.
Death is usually associated with too soon, not ready, too painful, unfair, why me?, uncertainty, fear, regrets, and such things of that nature. And of course, when the person is a child or someone who has not lived a full life, how can we not have such feelings of too soon or so unfair? We all want to at least have a full life, a life long enough to feel we’ve made a difference in the lives of others. Perhaps if we feel we haven’t done enough, the very fact that we are “on notice” that this will likely be our last illness can be the very thing we need to help us finish up some of our unfinished business before we go.
Many people die without any notice at all. They get hit by a car, choke on a bone, fall overboard while river-rafting, or get caught up in gunfire — accidentally or on purpose. No matter the reason for the hows, whys and wherefores, it is all the same in the end: That person is no longer around — except maybe in the hearts of others. And it could be you. Now is the time to do what you had intended to do, whether to tell anyone you loved them; to hear their words of love; to do what you intended to do; to forgive your so-called enemies, or to be forgiven for that episode of yours so many years ago for which someone harbored an unrelenting grudge.
Death can be sudden or lingering, but it is sure. And those who visit you during your last illness can sense this surety and don’t want to spend the rest of their life wishing they had visited you to tell you they love you, forgive you, enjoyed some good times together, or miss your smile. Some might even stir within you a desire to recapture a feeling of wanting to sit up and try a favorite familiar dish or two, or finally update your so-out-of-date phone/contact book that consists of more scraps of torn envelopes than actual pages with neatly printed names and numbers — and information that those you leave behind may really need. And too — while you can still be useful and helpful and do something that is so important to others — you can finally write on the back of all those photos the names of the people in them and maybe the year or the occasion when the photo was taken. If you can’t get up and are feeling hopeless to help, you can always orchestrate the project from your bedside, allowing you to do something that has been requested of you over the years, and will be meaningful to all those who will be seeing those photos down through the generations. Hopefully someone will be able to say something like: “All the old photographs are in the spare room in the shoeboxes in the closet.” Then they can be brought to your bedside, along with marking pens, and the project can be underway.
Sometimes just having a project that only you can do (or do best) can spark you to feel useful and really helpful to your family and friends and contribute to a happier transition moment when the time comes, because you finally got around to it and did it.
And maybe all those visits can go into making up a living bouquet of the caring and love of others for you to enjoy now, as “difficult” as it might be, rather than having those visitors show up after the fact, when they can only “enjoy” each other and you can only have assumed, while still here, that they would come after you’re gone.