The bell tolls for many. It always does.
They took their leave in poignant numbers. We loved them and we lost them—men and women who had the power to move us in very special ways.
They left memories and images that death cannot diminish: a high swatch of beauty, grace, passion, anguish and delight. We celebrate their lives, not only on their day of remembrance, but forever. We will remember them as they are.
But why is death such a dreaded subject?
My husband, whose 27 years of passing we will mark soon, denied the possibility of death—even from his hospital room. Never once did he utter the word. Macho, maybe. Self-contained, perhaps. Fearful, certainly! The subject of death was depressing, he told me. It implied a lack of confidence in his immortality.
Many, many autumns ago, early one bright morning, I took his healthy body to the doctor for a regular routine check up. He protested all the way.
By that same early evening, out of nowhere, he suffered a combined respiratory and cardiac arrest and slipped into a coma. According to the doctors, he could miraculously come out of it or remain comatose for days, months or God forbid, even years!
Through all the blurs of anxiety, we watched him, tormented with meaningless chemical assault and of that medical invasion of life’s dignity.
Five times, the doctor calmly reminded me to prepare myself for a crucial decision.
Hypothetically, it wasn’t so simple. How do I feel about life-sustaining technology? At what point does food and water become a form of the futile prolonging of life?
And Lord God in heaven, what about hope? For loved ones, does it ever end? Would he have wanted us to wait forever? Under what circumstances would he hope to “hang on” and desire only tenderness, care and understanding?
He told me once, in one of our more tender moments, that he wants to live his life with dignity and for us, the “De Leon” girls to have pleasant memories, always and forever.
It is not cardiac arrest, or at least not a heart failure alone, which gives these matters their urgency. It is living.
In the ensuing days, which seemed like an eternity, the hospital became our temporary domain. We watched the ebb and flow of humanity, as our own lived several lifetimes in agony during the deathwatch.
The heartbreaking, dizzying, see-saw of miniscule omens—sending hope rushing to the family’s brain like an intoxicant, then suddenly, blows grim portents. As downturn and unexpected setbacks occur, we braced our hearts (the youngest was barely 5 years old) for the worst, as a night would pass and the news would be good again.
I gasped for equilibrium, while my soul was in escrow! You’d think, that then, at forty, I’d faced it before.
Across the denominational spectrum, the spiritual challenge can become intense. What is God’s will? Have I the right to prolong or shorten life by providing more medications or refusing respirators?
Where there was no right or wrong, we put in an open heart and clear, collective thinking. We took the agonizing decision of a non-negotiable deathwatch, anchored on “Thy will be done, Dear Lord.”
On the 10th day, in the dead of winter and in one of his most merciful acts, God plucked a flower to add to his bouquet. He was 40.
That was 27 years ago. My husband’s choice was not mine. I put an end to the death taboo. I have my motives about talking about the Big D, here and now.
I can be a biblical Isaac, who took hold of his terrors of dying prematurely, blessed his sons (in my case , my four girls). But then, he lived a long, good life.
Isaac knew that one way to deal with anxiety is to deal with it and give it to the Almighty.
I shall face end of life issues—without expecting to have all the answers at once.
Today, I accept death as a necessary clearing of the way for fresh life, like literary style is the removal of the superfluous. I ask my doctor not to prolong my existence artificially when they and my family agree that I am physically finished and mentally dead.
After all life has been kind to me: so much love given and returned.
A world without beauty heard or seen, is no world for me. A life without freedom and movement is no life for me.
E-mail Mylah at firstname.lastname@example.org