Count Your Blessings

Terry Teachout posted an email from one of his blog readers in response to his illness:

I find it odd what a presence you’ve become in my life; I didn’t think it was possible to care so much, to be so saddened by, to fear the loss of a person whom I’ve never met.

A friend of mine who does not know Terry wrote to me

just read your latest and then TT’s. could hardly make it through his as my eyes were so blurred with tears! very happy to hear that he has been given the greatest xmas gift of all – “another chance,” – so to speak.

Odd perhaps, but not really considering our shared humanity. Is it not kin to the same feelings that make our eyes tear up watching happy-ending holiday movies, or even Extreme Home Makeover and Three Wishes? We identify and empathize, and it feels good to be a part of that something bigger than our individual selves.

It’s true that tangible gifts — whether a handmade card or the over-the-top ‘gifts’ of houses and scholarships and such on TV — are great, the latter often representing a second chance at a new or better life. But it is the words we speak and write to one another that can provide powerful sources of support, a measure of comfort, and sometimes inspiration — even when there is no second chance.

I was saddened last week by the death of a woman I had never met. A week ago tonight my neighbor’s mother, Gladys, died in the hospital, surrounded by loving family members and friends. Ever since my neighbor told me about it I’ve been thinking about the hospital scene she described. The doctor and nurses were kind…and more importantly I think, they were honest. When Gladys asked the doctor, “Is this the end of the road?” he told her the truth. The best part, if there is such a thing as ‘a best part’ in death, is that because she was lucid, and because of the doctor’s honesty, goodbyes were able to be said. They talked about how cool it was that they were not only mother and daughter, but also best friends. Mother-daughter relationships have their unique twists and turns, and to feel that one’s mom is also a best friend is definately a blessing. (I feel similarly blessed, and if I am with my mother when she makes her transition, I will remember to remind her of how great it is that we were also friends…in fact, maybe I will tell her now, too.) I don’t know what else they said to one another, I get choked up just trying to imagine it — does one actually say “good bye” at such a moment? “I love you” was certainly said, not only in words, but with every touch and glance.

When the doctor acknowledged to Gladys that it was, indeed, the end of her road, he also told her that he could take away her pain. That was another gift — not only the cessation of pain, Gladys was given a choice, one that brought her some small measure of control along with a large measure of dignity. Gladys knew, as did those who were with her, that as the pain meds were increased she would slowly slip into unconsciousness. No longer in fear of pain, she was able to stretch those last hours and share them with those she loved. When her physical pain became too much, it was she who chose to ask for relief…and for release. It must be hard to let go, to allow a loved one to slip away. I imagine that it is even hard for the nurses to administer the medications that while providing relief from pain also slow the heart, leading ultimately to its repose. But love is sometimes hard. Gladys sailed away a few hours after, leaving behind sadness to be sure, but the tears will be tempered in time by loving memories.

So let’s count our blessings, use our time on earth wisely, be kind to one another, and remember that we are not alone.