When I speak, I often say, “Prepare to die by preparing to live.” And someone in the audience ALWAYS says, “Say that again.” But I mean something different than you might think. Because I know, better than many people, that sometimes time runs out. None of us know when really. And we are not taught how to deal with it.
October 12, 2015, Dave was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer and the doctors basically said, “Prepare to die.” Not in those exact words but when an oncologist says to put your affairs in order, make wills, have those difficult conversations, what they are really saying is, “Prepare to die.” and, for me, “Prepare to live on without him,” my soulmate, best friend, lover, husband over close to 25 years. It’s impossible.
So we redefined it and chose to live life on our terms until the very last day, when he died in my arms at home, going out on four breaths of love. We play around with this notion of, “If tomorrow was the last day of your life, what would you do?” We don’t LIVE like it could be.
My brother, Alec, had a genetic blood disorder and doctors expected him to die early, like at 10 years old. Instead, he lived until he was 23, and fell from his horse after riding it into third place in the final rodeo at the camp where he had been a counselor for several years. Alec went into a coma and died. I said goodbye to him at the airport after a family wedding and never saw him alive again.
I picked up my aunt, Alison, after her doctor’s appointment. The doctor told her she was in terrific health and he’d see her in two years. A couple of weeks later, she went to Tangiers to be one of the speakers on a prestigious panel, had a heart attack and never came home.
Here’s the point. There are no guarantees. We don’t know how much time we have to fulfill our dreams and express our love for the people and animals in our lives. Live, just live.
The urgencies of our lives catch us up, rush us along and we forget what’s important. To live. This post is obviously applicable to caregivers and the bereaved but also to everyone else.
1) Problem: being stretched too thin, emotionally and practically.
Solution: Increase acts of self-care, even with your limited time, even though the other person has ________, not you, even though you may feel guilty or selfish for taking the time. If you fall apart, everything falls apart so taking care of you is the most selfless act you can perform. For me, this included vibroacoustics and even going to Soul Camp the end of August (which turned out to be only twelve days before David died).
2) Problem: losing yourself in the role of caregiver so that all the other aspects of you, like woman/man, spouse/partner/lover/parent, creative/joyful/passionate/ are swallowed up by the necessity of handling daily emergencies at light speed.
Solution: Place yourself in situations and with people who see you as not just a caregiver. Go out for drinks with friends, exercise classes, music. I went to Canada to put together my signature speech and reel, and sang and spoke on stages and at events.
For the bereaved,
1) Problem: finding reasons to live every day without the person you loved and lost.
Solution: Honor your own feelings and the rise and fall of your energy. Choose bite-sized activities that you can win at, like getting out of bed, seeing one friend, doing 15 minutes of exercise. Be around people who can let you be however you are, without trying to fix you.
2) Problem: losing yourself in the role of a bereaved person because who you are in relationship to the person who died is gone too.
Solution: Do things that delight you (once you experience moments of pleasure again instead of endless grief) with people you enjoy. Experiment. The activities and individuals you liked before may make you sad or, if you were a couple, some friends may fall away. Seek a community or communities who support your growth and changes. Be connected with people who have known you in the context of your whole life, not just as caregiver or bereaved. As someone in my cancer caregiver group said to me, “You are still Alison.” I’m not sure who that is now but I’m learning.
As a family member, friend or colleague, who cares about a caregiver or someone who is bereaved, the best thing you can do is to allow them to be as they are. And hold the remembering of who they were before for them with love.