Someone on one of the loops I visit asked the question yesterday if we were afraid of the Grim Reaper.
I don’t think of Death as the Grim Reaper. I think of Death as the Last Great Healer. This is why.
I was a volunteer for Dallas’ Suicide and Crisis Center for several years. Later, while working on my Social Work graduate degree, I spent three years working the deep night shift on the 24/7 crisis line run by Dallas County’s mental health authority.
Over time, I talked to a fair number of people who were terminally ill and who had difficulty sleeping at night. Some were in pain, some had slept most of the day and could not sleep at night, and some just did not want to waste a moment of their precious remaining time in sleep.
Almost to a person, they expressed the same thing. They were not afraid of dying. However, they found the process very, very lonely. All of them wanted to talk about dying, but were surrounded by people who refused to allow them to do so. They complained of being told, “Don’t be silly. You’re not going to die.” or “Let’s not talk about depressing things.”
So, I was the place they would call--some daily for five minutes, others weekly for thirty minutes, and one or two just when the need struck. I listened and asked the questions they needed to answer. Many of them left instructions for their family to call to let me know when they died.
When dying is the biggest thing you have left, you need to be able to share it.
Death is the Last Great Healer. Some physicians and most braggarts see Death as an enemy to be defeated or stared down. However, for many in the last days of their life, Death is a friend to be greeted with open arms. When you have outlived the ones you love, when the pain is unbearable, when you are weary, Death can be a welcome alternative.
I am grateful for the lessons I learned during the years I worked that late night line. In the time since, I have tried to be present for those people in my life who are terminally ill. I do not turn away from their need to talk about it.
The last lines of the movie To Kill a Mockingbird include the following:
“Neighbors bring food with death...
and flowers with sickness...
and little things in between.”
I believe if we are there for the people we love during their lives, we need to walk beside them during that last journey.