It wasn’t on our watch, and it wasn’t in the building, but we lost our first resident on Saturday.
We didn’t know her well; since we arrived, she’d been unwell with what her husband described as an infection in her arm that just wouldn’t heal. As it turns out, what was wrong was leukeamia. And two weeks after the diagnosis, she died in hospital, surrounded by family and secure in her faith.
It’s not for me to say whether or not I believe that she saw Jesus as she was dying, as she told her family, or that where she was headed was a beautiful place. What I do know is that statement made her dying easier for her, and has made her death easier to accept for her very religious family. I am glad for their comfort, their joy in the knowledge they believe they have found.
What I do know from this experience is that death is both ordinary and unique. It comes to all of us, we can’t escape it however much we might try. It’s tritely true: we are born, we live, we die. What comes between those two points, the way we live is what I believe makes the life worthwhile. What makes the death we all face unique is how we face it, both for ourselves and for those we leave behind. And if seeing Jesus and a beautiful heaven and with your last breath sharing that information with your family is how you face death… good for you.
One death lead me to think about others, especially as I read emails shared amongst my siblings about the (nearly) last of dealing with my father’s estate, which came up at the same time as our resident died. I thought about Ross and about Joy, and about my grandparents, all missing from my life but not from my heart. I remembered the phone calls relaying the news in each instance, the rising sadness and almost overwhelming loss that each call meant. I remember the love that swamped our family, the laughter that we shared and the tears we sometimes tried to hide, and given this family, the food and the booze that we consumed!
I have decided something that is either deeply profound or horribly banal – or maybe it’s both. In any case, what I’ve come to understand is that the joy of life is what I want to remember. I want to remember, and be remembered for, laughter and silliness, and my clumsiness, and my exquisite shrimp risotto and my lousy coffee and my willingness to share my opinion about every thing with every one. I want people to know that even when I am completely pissed off at life, even when I am at my lowest as I was the day the theatre let me go, even when I am my most frustrated because I cannot find a job in the cultural sector, I am still filled with joy because I will find a reason to laugh, I will find a reason to be silly, I will share a bottle of wine with friends and make another brilliant risotto, and I will find work that I never expected to do but is surprisingly rewarding.
This is what I will see on my death bed – I hope – the joy that is now and always will be my life.