Friday, June 14, 2013

Death in Your Face

For the past week or so I've been processing my own reactions to my friend Mel's death.  As one of his caretakers, I could not help but see myself in that same position.   I felt guilty even thinking of myself and  mostly put those thoughts aside in favor of my immediate tasks of caring for Mel.  But the image of my own death wasn't very far below the surface, especially now, after the fact.  If I live as long as Mel, something similar will happen to me in the next two decades.  And there's no guarantee I will live that long.  Maybe I'll last longer.  Regardless of the timing, my number will come up and I will make the transition from life to death, just like everyone

I can't hope for a better death than Mel's.  Despite three previous cancers and the infirmities of age, he lived a long, full life.  At age 82 he went from from diagnosis to dead in under two months.  During most of that time he was alert, aware, out and about and with friends and family.  He had his moments of frustration and anger but they were few and he never lost his sense of humor although his physical activity became increasingly more limited.  His real decline came in his last two weeks and even then he was able to get out a bit.  Maggie and I joined him and two of his long-time friends for dinner six days before he died.  His final collapse took place over four days.  Mel was never without company in those days and was with his daughter and Maggie in his last moments.  

Mel's death is my first hands on experience with death.   I've always been conscious of death and have experienced my share over the years but Mel is the first person I have cared for in death.  It's perhaps the most intimate experience I've had with another person outside of sex.  It was hard and emotionally draining.  work.  Definitely frightening.  I found it difficult to see my old friend so helpless and was ever afraid that I would add further to the indignities of his helplessness.

Despite all my fear and sadness, caring for Mel is one of the most positive things I have done in life.  I can't think of a greater gift than caring for a dying person.   I was not the only caregiver and hardly the most involved.  Mel's family was there and had wonderful assistance from hospice care.  All of us were simply trying to make a difficult passage more comfortable.  I am honored to have had the opportunity.

I posted this video earlier this year but after loosing three friends in a 10 week period, it bears repeating.