“The day which we fear as our last is but the birthday of eternity.” ~ Lucius Annaeus Seneca.
This week I had one of those dreams that seems so real, yet cannot be told as a story when you wake up. What seemed to have plot and purpose breaks up into images and situations which have no logical storyline. But it was peopled by close friends and family, three of whom are no longer living. We took a drive out to see the beautiful Welsh mountains (there was no rain or clouds, that’s how I knew it was a dream!) The next day I learned that the husband of one of my departed visitors died. As Arsenio Hall used to say, things that make you go hmmmmm.
It is a crazy old thing, this life of ours. We all are born, we live, and we die. This special year has been a confluence, a triangulation of occurrences which have brought our differences into sharp relief. But also it has shown us that we are all the same. It is not normal to watch loved ones die from a distance. It is not normal to celebrate a life well lived via a Zoom platform (who knew of Zoom six months ago?), singing funeral hymns alone in front of your computer.
South Florida (now the new epicenter) is having a hard time coping with the restrictions. In normal times, the hospitalization of one person requires the attendance by family members near and far, cousin’s girlfriends; daughter-in-law’s uncle; all are obliged by culture to show their presence, to hang out at the bedside, to show concern. It must be torture to sit at home and wait for a busy nurse to not only come to the phone, but to video call you so you can see your loved one’s face, to make a remote connection.
I woke up this morning with a poet’s words on my lips. “And death shall have no dominion.” Like most good Welshmen, Dylan Thomas grew up in Chapel, singing rousing hymns and soaking in Biblical references, so it is no surprise that his words sprang from the Bible. But like most good Welshmen, his words then took on a life of their own as he (in his unique way) weaved words and phrases, used alliterations and assonance to create a world of imagery. It is a lovely thought though, that the absence of a body from a mortal plane cannot destroy the spirit, the spirit trails they leave behind through DNA and through impact, a ripple effect that can resonate long after you can no longer call them on the phone.
Nurses are a superstitious bunch. We are around death and the dying too much not to respect the fact that we don’t have all the answers to what happens next. We have had too many encounters with the inexplicable, too many shivers up our spine at magical moments. For anyone tortured by the thought of their loved one dying alone during this time of pandemic, I can assure you they are not alone. Not only are the nurses trying to stand in for the absent family, there are the travelers who come to accompany them on their next journey, on to their next excellent adventure. Some of us have been fortunate enough to see or at least sense them. Or we see your loved one acknowledge them in a gaze, smiling at a familiar face over our shoulder, just beyond our view.
The same poet wrote another poem dedicated to his father, after he watched him dying. He exhorted him to ‘rage against the dying of the light’, disappointed that he did not seem to be putting up more of a fight. But what if his father was seeing a light being born, one that was pulling him forwards?
These are strange times. On this Friday morning from a stormy South Florida I send you love and happy memories, and wishes that those who have gone ahead of us are having the time of their lives! We are all in this together, and can hold on to Dylan’s thought: “Though lovers be lost, love shall not; and death shall have no dominion.”
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!