Fran called me on Wednesday evening. A week and a half had passed by without me speaking with her. The last few months no more than a week would go by in between our phone calls or meetings, so she had been on my mind the last few days. Our conversation was short, she wanted me to know she wasn’t in a good place. That day there was suddenly no energy to stand up that morning. Hospice had been contacted and the hospital bed was in her bedroom and she was resting in it.
The call shook me. Although I knew fully about her cancer diagnosis, this change was very sudden. Until that day she was living on her own in her small apartment on 116 St. in Manhattan. The only help she had was with cleaning and dishes twice a week. I am grateful to say she was comfortable until that day, and then it was like someone suddenly pulled out the plug and her life energy quickly drained out of her. Her voice that night was all new. I knew from her voice that there had been great change for her.
I cleared my schedule the following day and spent the afternoon into the evening by Fran’s bedside. I didn’t want to wait. I knew she wanted to see me. We have had a deep and honest friendship for 22 years. But I also knew I needed to see her, I needed to catch up with her on her very own journey. And so I did. Knowing that this “new phase” as she called it, could last many weeks, perhaps even months. Those hours were spent talking, helping her with some practical matters in her home and also sharing what she felt was unfinished business. There was physical pain that was unbearable, and I was the one to help her ingest the morphine that night. I slowly caught up with her.
I spoke with Fran the next morning. I was concerned about her pain the night before. Wanted to make sure she didn’t have to endure any more of that. We spoke briefly. She was not in pain and her voice had yet again changed drastically since just the evening before. I could hear a stronger pain medication in her voice.
I cleared my schedule on Saturday afternoon and I went back to her side. I had more catching up to do. She still had her humor intact. When I told her it was Valentine’s Day and that she was my Valentine, she smirked , she thought it was a crummy way for me to spend it! I laughed. I have enjoyed her sense of humor and her straightforwardness for all these years.
The first hour or so was filled by small, but very important, tasks. I heard her expressing discomfort with her mouth and furry teeth. I saw her cracked lips and her long nails. I observed and I listened, and based on what I saw and heard, I gently asked if I could help her with these matters. She was so delighted. Brushing her teeth was her biggest wish. So I did. Slowly, gently and thoroughly. Rinsing with ice ships. One little chip after another. Slow and steadily. She was delighted. I found the lip balm. I cut the nails. It brought memories of helping my children with these exact same tasks just a few years ago. And it shone light on how vulnerable she was at that time, to the sensitivity of other people. She was in my hands.
Then the “doing” was done. Now all that was left for us was to “be” together. Holding hands, stroking hands and arms. She spoke a little now and then when she drifted back to me. She described the feeling inside her, like drying up from the inside. She also described a sense of “just not comfortable” inside. Not pain, just uneasy…….
At one point she reached for my head and kissed my cheek. It’s a precious memory for me. It was the first and only time she did that. I was always the one to kiss her cheek.
She told me she “wouldn’t mind” going just like that at that time. It was so matter of fact….. I wished she could. She asked me what she had to do. I humbly told her that I didn’t think there was anything more to do…… And that I didn’t know what needed to take place for her to finally leave. Neither did she.
There was no fear. Just her wish to leave.
I left that early evening after a few phone calls. Knowing that her friend Florence would soon be by her side as well as the hospice aid. Yet again I had caught up with Fran. Very quickly she had entered the last phase, I knew she was dying.
That evening I made plans to go back in with my sons on Monday. Possibly Sunday afternoon if her situation changed again.
Sunday morning, in between my two yoga classes, I had to catch up with Fran one more time. The last time. I found out that a few hours after I left the evening before, she peacefully took her last breath. She let go all the way. Just the way she wished for. In her home, in her bedroom.
Fran taught me a lot those last three days of her life. She showed me total, complete letting go. I realized on Thursday afternoon that this is why I practice non-attachment, the ability of letting go throughout my day and my life. So that when I am at that transition, when we all are asked to let go of everything and everyone we know, we are able to do so with ease.
I was reminded how in this society we are emotionally disabled when it comes to dying and death. So many are afraid of this one process we all will for sure go through. The one thing we can count on, ironically, is the one part of life we shy away from. I see clearly how this is a huge emotional disadvantage for each and every one of us. This is the time we need to “be” with each other. When all the doing is done. We simply need to be. But, if we are not comfortable being with ourselves, how can we ever be comfortable being present with a loved one that is dying?
I do think there are things we can do to change this sad dilemma. Simply by starting with ourselves. By taking time each and every day to simply be with ourselves. In an honest, real way. We can go about this in many different ways. On the yoga mat, on the meditation cushion, walking in the beauty of nature, run, swim, sipping tea, watching the sky. I think there are endless ways to look inside and to reflect. It seems tremendously important to me. Possibly more important than most other things we fill our free time with.
I am deeply grateful for a friendship like no other friendship, and I am delighted that Fran could let go with such ease.
And I am still catching up…….