The stick-figure who was once a man, who used to toss not-so-little kids up in the air and then catch them as they screamed, who once refereed football games without getting up much of a sweat – he’s slipping away.
We all go there. We all know that. But this descent is awful. The person he was is still in there somewhere, but can’t be seen, can’t get out. It’s in the eyes. Once deep and dark, now filmy and grey.
We all die. It’s a given. Once born, there is only one path to follow, only one end. The end.
Is it better to hang on and give family and friends the time to say goodbye? Or is it better to go quickly, while the chance exists for people to remember a good-looking, alive, person? Is it worth the pain and discomfort, the heartbreak and looks of pity and horror, and sometimes disgust, as the body fades into crackly skin and bone?
Death is not a nice thing to watch. But we watch. We sit with him until the final moments, we want to hear if any last words might be said, we can’t bear to leave him alone on his final journey.
Nor should he be left on his own. What if he’s scared and can’t tell us that? What if he’s scared there’ll be none of what he’s believed in his whole life? What if …?
We can’t help, not him, not each other. Each one of us will go through the process in a different way. Some will want to talk about it, some won’t. Some will want closeness and hugs and being surrounded, some will melt into a corner to be alone with it. Some will be forced into a foray they must comply with, rather than the one they want or need.
Until it’s over, we wait, we watch, we stand guard. We don’t know why, nor do we care. It’s what we do for someone who gave us life, who gave us joy and determination and justice. We wait for the end, and see in it a relief of the constant, harrowing pain and distress. We see the silence as distance, feel the letting go as the muscles relax, sense the departure.
But we don’t let go. Not immediately.
The ritual of placing the remnants of a person who once had a soul must be followed. Everyone must share in the process of farewells. For without it, we see only the lonely road to the end.