About death and dying

It’s interesting … I was about to say funny, but there’s definitely nothing funny about today’s Editorial. So, it’s interesting when subjects come to mind that seem sort of close to home and then all of a sudden hit you right where you live.

There’s an Italian couple who lived down the hall from me and I would see them in the morning walking down my hall. She had a bad heart and bad circulation, which made her legs hurt, so she had trouble walking. I lived at the end of the hall then, and they lived at the opposite end. She would walk to elevators (in the middle) have a little rest, walk to the end, have a rest, then walk back, resting at the elevators again on the way. We’d chat about nothing much sometimes while I waited for the elevator and watched them walk up and down the hall. One time I was taking out the trash on my way out of the building and I had a big pizza box. She asked me if I liked to eat pizza, and, of course, I said I did. So she promised that when she was feeling better, she would make me a nice homemade, Italian pizza.

A few months ago I ran into the man and he told me that his wife had died. I said I was sorry to hear it, she was a nice lady. When he reminded me about the pizza he started to cry. And I realized that he must have been reminded about what a caring woman she must have been to offer to make me that pizza, and that she must have really loved her life to believe that although her health was not good, that she might be able to that for me.

As well, the woman who lived next door to me was getting on and had some heart and liver problems. The first time I saw her, she asked me if her TV was too loud, since she was hard of hearing and kept the TV pretty loud. I told it was fine, that I’d never noticed it. But often enough after that I would hear her TV from the elevators when I got home from work. I never heard it in my apartment, but out in the hall it was pretty loud. I ran into her and her sister (who lives a few floors down) on occasion and we’d chat a bit. I never got her name, but I’d hear that was down to St. Michael’s Hospital for dialysis. First it was twice a week, then it became 3 times, and it was a solid 8 hours on the machine. Plus an hour on either side to prep and recover, then the travel time and the waiting for the Wheel-Trans/diabled transportation. In November she had a heart attack, and two days ago, as I was on my out to see friends, the sister told me that last week she’d had another heart attack and died several hours later.

Now these two stories got me thinking about death and dying. I think about the pain and loss of those left behind, and the pain and suffering of the person who has died. But I also think about the relief, on both sides, that the person who has died is no longer in pain, no longer suffering. And I’d like to think that that’s an unselfish way of looking at things. Yes, we’re left behind, so to speak, to sort things out. And yes, we’re left to mourn the loss of someone we loved. When someone is in pain, then when it’s over it should be a relief of some kind.

I think about what I was told of my grandpa’s last days, 3 years ago. I’m told that he was in a great deal of pain for quite a while, but then it seemed to subside. He was lucid and alert, able to visit with the friends and relatives who came to see him. Then, only hours later, he was dead. It was as though he knew what was next and was able to make peace with it, which gave him long enough to have the chance to say goodbye.

And today I learned that my uncle died last night, not even 50 years old, of liver cancer. This is a man that I barely saw once a year and didn’t even really know until I was probably 12 or 13. And then just within the last few years we got some good chances to visit and chat and really begin getting to know each other. He was a father, a brother, a son, an uncle. He bred horses and trained them, he taught kids who had problems, he coached hockey and was his son’s biggest fan. He leaves behind a son and daughter, a mother, a brother, a niece and a nephew. Most of all, he leaves behind a life full of promise. I really don’t have the words to express what I felt when my Dad called me to tell me. Then when my Nana called, I really didn’t want to talk about it directly. Then I talked to my Mom and my sister and the reality began sinking in. I started thinking about such oddly dark things like if he has mortgage life insurance, then his house is paid off; if his kids are beneficiaries to his employer’s life insurance, then they’re taken care of for a little while. I guess those are the real things that begin to creep in once you’ve accepted what’s happened.

When my neighbour’s sister told me my neighbour was dead, and I thought about the poor man down the hall and his wife, I started thinking about death and its effects on the people who are close to the deceased. I never thought that someone I knew and loved would be dying in the near future. I have older aunts and my Nana who are in their mid-eighties and they don’t get around too well anymore, and as grisly and macabre as it may seem, I figured their time would come sooner. But now we will celebrate the life that was taken and not dwell on the loss that we feel. This should allow us all some closure and allow us to move on.