In my work as a veterinary nurse, I deal with death and grief on a weekly basis. I watch families and individuals say goodbye to their beloved fur-babies, consumed by intense emotion. The reasons for letting their babies go are varied, but each has the same result: grief and sorrow. Some handle the situation with bemused sadness, others with embarrassment and surreptitious sniffs and wiped eyes. Still others embrace their sorrow, allowing themselves to be swept up in grief’s march through the room. It’s not so different from human grief, albeit on a smaller scale.
Humans don’t have the gift of choosing when to end the life of a loved one (yet) when interminable suffering and agony are their constant companions. Instead, we wait, watch, empathize, sympathize and stifle gasps of horror and sometimes revulsion at the naked, raw pain our loved ones must endure before finally being freed from their mortal shell.
This week, a woman who was very dear to me, moved to her new address in heaven. Her name was Aunt Jean. She was not my aunt in any biological sense, but she was an aunt and so much more to me in a life sense. She inspired me in so many ways. After forty years in an abusive marriage, she finally found the courage to stand up and say “No more!” She bought her own house, her own car and her life blossomed. She blossomed! I was fortunate to meet her after her courageous departure from her former life, and I admired her so much. What strength and courage to pull herself out of a terrible situation and make her life new! She was in her sixties when I met her, but in her mind, her life had just begun.
She is no longer here on earth, but her inspirational work continues. I appreciate her ability to look life square in the eye and say, “OK. I see you one divorce, and I raise you LIVING!” And Live she did! Alzheimer’s dimmed her final years, but she lived her life to the end. I heard stories of groups of her nurses and care givers (from her living facility) calling family, crying in despair after learning of her passing. Life without her will never be the same for many of us here on earth.
When I reflect on my life, I see a clear delineation between what was and what could be. How will I face life? What will I say in response to what I’ve been handed? I hope I am as valiant and brave as Aunt Jean.
Because it’s a matter of Life and Death.