*May 2021*  by Tess Taft, msw, licsw ©all rights reserved

“Finally, death itself is not the worst thing that can happen.”

“Everyone who loves me has heart fatigue. When I die their hearts will be tired in another way.

But me? I’m curious about what’s next. I’m diminishing here, but I’m expanding, there.

I can feel it. The veil IS getting thin.”

“When people ask me ‘How ARE you” in that tone now, I look them right in the eye and ask them

‘How much do you really want to know?’”

“Everyone knows what’s happening to me. I feel like I’m standing naked on a pedestal

with everyone dressed, looking at me.”

“It feels like my life is a funeral now. You don’t laugh at a funeral.

For all but the people closest to me, there’s only room for solemnity, or fear.

I wish we could switch our talks of hope to talks about hope for what is happening!

I wish we could laugh!”

The language we use around cancer and cancer treatment reflects our beliefs about illness: the battle, survivors, waging a war. The implication is that if someone dies they are losers; survival is good, death is bad. So how can anyone who is dying not sink into the belief that they have failed and are letting down everyone who loves them? Where is the space to peacefully open to the mystery of what lies next?

This is what can happen: When people, even online friends we have not met in person, die of the same disease we are struggling with, grief and anxiety collide within us. The low hum of fear which follows us like a shadow becomes a shout from within that feels beyond consolation.

For years I have visited actively dying people on oncology units, in hospice houses, in hospitals, and at their homes. During these visits I notice the different feelings illuminated on their faces between the times when they are alone with me, and the times there are family members present as we talk. When family members are with us, the impossibility of leaving those we love, the difficulty of saying final goodbyes, the guilt of it all, the suffering, the invisible weight of final touches, these hang like a cloud, no matter what is said. Of course.

But when I am alone with people close to death, many speak easily about death, how they are getting ready, how curious they feel, or how convinced they are of more existence to come. The closer they get to letting go, the less work there is to do to come to terms with leaving beloved people, beloved places, home, pets, objects that had seen them through transitions before but could not be taken with them now. Much of that work has been completed. For them, the time has come to look forward into the Mystery, and look they do!

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