“to live in this world
you must be able
to do three things
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go”
Those words are from a poem by Mary Oliver, a Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet. Her words have really come alive for me as I work with and counsel hospice patients and their loved ones.
Most of my hospice patients and their families have allowed me to witness the great strength of human connection. The lengths that some will go to in order to provide vital support to someone they love and care about are boundless. For hospice patients, “life support” takes on new meaning as well. No more does life support refer to CPR, ventilators or feeding tubes. Instead, “life support” becomes much more intimate and enduring.
I have watched an elderly woman tenderly holding the hand of her life’s love, all the while bearing a smile so as not to upset her husband. I have heard the calming voice of a daughter whispering “I love you” into her dying mother’s ear. I have met a retired preacher and his wife who never had children of their own, yet their home is always filled with the love of their many nieces and nephews and parishioners who take turns “helping out” with whatever may need to be done. Out-of-state sons and daughters temporarily abandon their busy lives and return “home” to provide loving care for a dying parent. The love that flows between the dying and those who love them is never-ending and it is humbling to witness these bonds. One of my favorite lines from Tuesdays with Morrie was something like: “Death ends a life, it doesn’t end a relationship.”
There will always be death. We cannot live life and “love what is mortal” without suffering through the deaths of people we love. What we can do is exactly what Mary Oliver tells us to do in her poem above. Love as if life depends on it – then, when it’s time, we need to be strong enough in our having loved to let it go. It’s the emotional “pulling of the plug” that makes death so difficult to bear. But just as my patients’ families and friends surround them in their final months-weeks-days-hours, so to (hopefully) will family and friends provide life support to us as we move through our bereavement.
Caring Choices can help you and your loved ones strengthen your life support so that you can face letting go. Call us for more information today.
(c) 2013 Caring Choices