In Passing

Yesterday I was informed by a dear friend, Jay, that she had rather suddenly lost one of her close friends to death. That friend had apparently been relatively healthy, but in only a matter of a few weeks went from active and engaged to departed.  Jay stated that mentally she understood what had just happened but emotionally she was not coping well because of the suddenness of the loss. 

A few hours later I received a packet of writing from a dear friend of mine who has been living with a progressively deteriorating health condition for many years. He has soldiered through the  steady decline with an amazing adaptability and retention of positive attitude. What was evident, however, in what he sent me was the fact that the core elements that he has retained as his sense of identity are now under attack. He is experiencing difficulties with all forms of communication and becoming an unwillingly isolated shut-in.

In my initial response to Jay, I spoke about the difference between losing someone suddenly and watching a steady decline, the latter situation giving one an opportunity to adjust emotionally as well as mentally to what is coming. However, that latter situation also implies or imposes awareness that the friend suffering the decline is indeed suffering over an extended period of time. What I mentioned to Jay in my initial response was the ambiguity that I have lived with for many years over the “better” way for a life to end. It seems that for the person who is departing this life it must be easier if the departure is relatively sudden. No living with pain, no agonizing over things undone, not really any time to guilt trip oneself, which I realize may or may not be the case, there being no means to ask after the departure whether the person did in fact experience regrets, or depart in peace.

For those of us left behind after a quick death, similar questions can nag at us. By contrast, when there is a lingering illness and progressive decline, the person experiencing the challenges may or may not value the time provided and the advance notice that whatever activities or communications have been neglected can be put right before death. The friend or family member standing beside or watching the decline also has time to sort things out if they choose to do so. Working in home care for many years, I watched all sorts of variations of the slower passing and saw family member caregivers who treasured every moment of their connection to the dying individual. I also saw family members impatient for the end to come, feeling overwhelmed or angry or just immeasurably sad that their loved one was suffering and in pain. 

For myself, I have tried to live by guidance received from my grandfather when he was near the end of his life. He said then that he had only two regrets, one being that it would have been better for my mother, his daughter, if he had remarried but he never found a woman he wanted to commit to. His other regret was that he never learned to play the mandolin. At that time, when I was in my late twenties, I undertook to try to live in such a way that whenever my end came I would have no more regrets than he did. 

I’m comfortable in saying that at this moment I have achieved that goal. I recognize that the goal is a moving target and that I need to be mindful to stay in this space of no more than two regrets. Doing so helps keep me honest in my interactions, respectful of others, and sufficiently self aware to keep myself motivated in pursuing my own next steps.

I cannot speak for those who care for me with regard to what they would prefer, my rapid and unexpected passing versus an anticipated steady decline. That choice seems to be a very individual one for each of them. I do think that living by the mantra of minimizing regrets (making prompt restitution when we err) can benefit us all, so that however an end comes, whether our own or a loved one’s, the transition can be smoother and less emotionally painful for all who are involved in the passing.

May it be so.

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4 Responses to “In Passing”

  1. Sebastian Says:

    This post brings up so many thought-provoking points about the nature of life endings and self-acceptance. As a fiction writer, I am often inspired by real-life situations and emotions like the ones shared in this post. The idea of living a life with minimal regrets is one that I often explore in my writing, as it speaks to the importance of self-reflection and growth. The experience of losing a loved one suddenly or watching a slow decline is universal, and it is touching to hear of the wisdom passed down by the grandfather in this post. I am grateful for the reminder to live with purpose and to strive for peace and acceptance in all aspects of life, especially in its endings.

    • chelawriter Says:

      Thank you for the appreciation. A group of my college classmates will be meeting on line next month to talk over management of end of life issues. Given we are all at or approaching 80 it is quite relevant. I am learning, reading your stories, to enjoy scifi, a genre I read briefly when much younger but have not dipped into in nearly 50 years.

  2. Gail Rubin, CT Says:

    Thank you for your thoughts on this important topic. I hope you have pre-planned your funeral arrangements. I’m going to go visit a friend in the hospital today who has had a rapid decline in her health. The Doyenne of Death will be meeting her brother and sister-in-law to discuss these issues.

    Gail Rubin, CT Office: 505-265-7215 Cell: 505-363-7514

    Subscribe to Gail’s YouTube Channel:

    “Talking about sex won’t make you pregnant, talking about funerals won’t make you dead.”


    • chelawriter Says:

      Yes I have conveyed my wishes to my husband and he to me. They are very different but not incompatible. We do still need to put them in writing for the benefit of our will executor, should we both die together in an accident. Thanks for the prompt to get that done.

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