Let’s face it. Everyone of us will, if we haven’t already, come face to face with this question. The Dying Man’s Journal addressed this issue in response to a question from one of his readers. With the caveat that every situation is a bit different, Bill encourages us to visit, to call, to spend time with our dying friend. This is not an easy thing to do. When one of us is about to be struck down, we—the robustly living—are forced to confront our own mortality. As if that weren’t enough, we must also deal with the old injustice refrain:
- Why this person, not another person?
- Why this kid, not an old man?
- Why my friend/brother/sister/child, not some random person on the street?
There are no answers to these questions. Life and death are not fair or logical; life and death simply exist; death is the only guarantee of life. So perhaps it is best for us to simply acknowledge the facts and close the door on the unanswerable questions. The reality is that the dying need us. And we need them.
“I am still me.” says The Dying Man. “I am still the same person I was prior to my diagnosis. I still like the same things, I AM STILL ME. The only difference is I have some unsettling, disturbing thoughts running around in my head. Think about the things in your life that can upset you, I mean really set you off. Now compare that to hearing that you are dying. How do they compare in importance or significance? How important or significant does your issue seem or compare?”
That last sentence sums up why we need the dying. We need to assimilate and remember that lesson. So, we screw up our nerve and pick up the phone or press the doorbell. Bill warns us to expect the unexpected. Perhaps our ill friend has had a difficult morning, perhaps meds are wreaking havoc, or a string of wonderful guests have drained our friend of energy. A dying person may not have the energy to graciously turn us away. Or the exhausted person may not even want to turn us away but may simply not have the energy to carry on a conversation. Don’t be afraid to ask if you should come back another time and don’t feel rebuffed if you are turned away. But if your presence is welcome and the conversation becomes one-sided, consider this your opportunity to talk to your heart’s content.
Bill advises, Talk “the same way we have always talked; remember I am still the same person I have always been. Don’t be afraid of mentioning anything about dying. Guess what? I already know that, so hearing it from you isn’t going to upset me. Feel free to ask any questions you may have but then let’s drop the subject not dwelling on it.”
The most important thing, I think, is to make the time to visit with your dying friend. Don’t let your own fear of death isolate the one who is walking down that path all alone. And don’t be robbed of the remaining precious time to share your friendship and love.
How about you? Have you spent time with a dying friend or relative? If so, what have you learned? What surprised you the most?