This is going to sound like a dark question because it is a dark question. How can you prepare for death? More specifically, how can you prepare for the death of a loved one? I sure as heck have no idea. Believe me, I try not to go to that dark place but, I inevitably do. I just can’t help it. I make plans about my future, like trips for me and Alex to take, movies to watch, nights out to hang with friends, etc. So of course what comes to mind is what to do with my blind diabetic dog, Sunny, or with Tata, my 91-year old grandmother with dementia. I know my time is limited with each of them but it’s not like I wait at home for them to die either. On the other hand, getting swept up in plans to take trips or to hang out with friends means I have to put my focus on something else that does not involve them, which means I’m spending less time with them. And so, I worry. I worry that the moment I’m spending with them is the last moment and I start to become hypersensitive to anything they say or do.
I come home from work, tired but in a good mood, feed the dog, give her an insulin shot, watch TV with Alex and eventually put Tata to bed. And then I realize, as I am carrying the dog to the room, that she’s trembling as she did earlier that evening. I didn’t frighten her. I’m sure of it. So why is she trembling? She starts pacing back and forth, getting water then trying to lay down…back and forth. Sunny just can’t get comfortable. She even trembles as she lays down. Getting up, pacing, laying back down again. Unable to lay on her side I think to myself, “Is this what it looks like? Are these going to be her last moments?” I pray to God that they aren’t but, how do I prepare for something like that? And now I can’t sleep because, how can I just go to sleep when I think my dog is dying?
With Tata it’s worse. She cannot participate in any meaningful conversation. She even gets up to go to her room hours before bedtime. And to avoid conflict, I allow her to do whatever she wants. But this means that I’m not spending time with her. So how can I ensure that her last days are pleasant? Getting invested just creates more frustration and sadness because there is no understanding her disease. There is no way to be there for her in a way that she knows that she is being cared for and that her life is good. There are no simple questions to ask her because now, she does not even understand what she is being asked. How do I know this for sure? Because in a split second she is filled with fear – not knowing where she is or what to do and looking up at me trembling, eyes wide, asking for guidance when all I asked her was, “Tata, how was your day today?”, or “Tata, how are you feeling?”
So how do I prepare for death? Well, I shut down. I instinctively just shut down. I cannot get attached to Tata anymore. I cannot get attached to Sunny anymore. I have to ignore them and do the bare minimum. I have to be on auto-pilot. That is what my mind and body want to do and if I’m being honest, that has happened on occasion when I become too overwhelmed. I know that I have to fight that urge inside of me. I cannot shut down. How dare I shut down and give up on these relationships? And I have to remind myself that the easy way is typically the wrong way. There are no shortcuts, right? So I try to force myself to take the hard road. I take the hard road and stay present in every moment despite how my heart aches, and it aches, it’s aching as I write these words. My heart aches but I have to make a conscious effort. Why? Because there is no way to prepare for death. I have just figured it out. Right at this moment.
My life, at this moment, is a constant state of mourning.
Every day the relationship between me and Tata changes. Every day, the relationship between me and Sunny changes. My grandmother is no longer the strong woman who comforted me when I didn’t know what to do and who supported me without judgment, without questions. My dog is no longer the energetic puppy with constant joy and amazement in her eyes. Their needs have changed and in so doing, the relationship has changed. I am in mourning because I’m seeing the end clearer every day. Another aspect of our relationship dies a little bit more.
There is no preparation for death because you start the mourning period long before death actually comes. At least in instances like these and in instances when you are taking an active role in the relationship. The devastation changes ever-so-slightly with the passing days. There is no preparation for death but, I think there is a point in our lives when life becomes death. Death is not an instant. It is not a moment. No. It is a constant. It is a new state of being. And as tragic as it is for me when I reflect on my life with Sunny, and as I reflect on my life with Tata, I shudder to think of how it feels to those who are aware of their own death. I dread the day when I am aware that it is me who is next, should I live as long as Tata. I just hope and pray for peace at the end of it all. I hope and pray for peace at the fact that yes, these relationships will end and it is okay for them to end.
There is no happy ending at the end of this blog. For that, I am sorry. But some things just don’t have a happy ending. Life doesn’t end that way, does it? So why should this blog be different? All I can offer is advise – take an active role in all of your relationships. Make the most out of every single person you call a friend, or have called a friend in the past. Be there. Be present. Make the hard choice, the conscious effort, to step away from your distractions and the noise of all the nonsense. Focus on what truly matters. Find strength and love in the life (and death) around you.