Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Preparing to Say Goodbye

Perhaps the holiday season is not the usual time for discussing loss and grief, but life and death do not always wait for a convenient date.

My friend, who shall be known here as D, is dying. D could be the poster child for a "Lust for Life" campaign. He loves everyone and has seemingly infinite energy and enthusiasm for any and all adventures. He’s fought prostate cancer for eight years, which is a testament to his personal fortitude and the amazing advances of modern medicine. But now the cancer has moved to the bone, and will not be diverted from its course.

While the details of cancer’s attack on the body are horrific, and the impending loss of a loved one is heartrending, it is comforting to know that in this post-industrial world where everyone is separated and we rely on machines for our everyday survival, our culture has begun to return to some of the old ways.

D is at home now for his final weeks, attended by his partner and children who are thankful for the existence of Hospice and opiate derivatives, both of which help diminish the physical agony aspect of death and allow them to squeeze in every last minute of togetherness and joy for this man. I’m not an anthropologist, but it seems to me that our species has a long history of ushering our dying members carefully and lovingly into the afterlife. This was lost briefly in the decades of the last century where we sent the elderly and dying to institutions “for their own comfort.” Now it seems there is a trend to keep our elders near us in whatever way we can, and to stay close to them as they die. I know not everyone has the opportunity to spend quiet moments with their loved one just before their death; there are too many things that can kill us unexpectedly. But given the opportunity - and plenty of assistance, I’m not suggesting that people give up their careers or put themselves into bankruptcy in order to keep an elder at home - it seems like home is the best place “for their own comfort.”

Who is D to me? As with most of my relationships, it’s a little hard to describe. Officially, he is the son of my partner’s mother’s late second husband. We are completely unrelated, and yet he is family. But a more meaningful description would be something like this: a kindred spirit, a brilliant artist who simultaneously laughs with childlike glee and takes the weight of the world on his shoulders, a man who assumes everyone is a friend unless proven otherwise, and, most simply, a good man.

Here are a few of the things I know about him:

D is a devoted family man – a son, father, brother, and husband, as well as uncle and in-law to many generations and at many removals.

D is a world traveler - he and his partner have traveled all over the globe, seeing beautiful sights and collecting incredible art objects.

D is an artist – actor, dancer, wearer of magnificent costumes.

D is a vintage automobile enthusiast – he’s collected some gorgeous cars and attended more vintage auto shows throughout the country than he can probably count.

D is so very generous – anywhere he goes, he comes bearing gifts selected with the recipients’ special interests in mind (a collection of vintage hand bags for me); he is always the suave host (even now as he is confined to bed he asks visitors if they’d like something to eat or drink); and he is unfailingly supportive and complimentary of other people’s efforts (the mud-green color I chose for my family room walls was universally hated by everyone but me, until D arrived and pronounced that that very color was going to be the next big thing.)

D leaves an indelible impression – the flash of his brilliant Hawaiian shirt as he inspects a vehicle at an auction; the happy grin as he dances effortlessly past, tossing and twirling a breathless partner; his solemn joy and pride in a special ceremony; the smiles of all his children, nieces and nephews, gathering around him at a picnic.

I wish for you a smooth ride to your destination, my dear friend.



  1. A moving and sensitive piece that cannot fail to touch and resound with us all.
    Best wishes to you and yours.

  2. This is a beautiful loving tribute to your friend, a man you seem truly blessed to have known so well. I am sorry for the coming loss, it is hard no matter how prepared we are. I was able to be with my father at the moment he died, and it was a precious time.

  3. I'm so sorry. I'm glad he is home. This post was lovely and I'm sure your friend knows how much you care about him.