19 July 2012

We're at that age now. We pick up the telephone, or as in my case last night, we check our email. Someone has contacted us to let us know someone we knew in high school or college has died. Someone we lost connection with, someone we didn't see because Life moved us states and continents away and somehow we heard of how the other was doing but had no direct contact with for years.

Such a harsh word, 'died', really when applied to a friend or family member it is a word that CANNOT be brought from heart to brain to tongue to ears-we say 'passed' or 'slipped away' because saying 'died' is just too blunt.

But yesterday morning, Southern California time, my friend from high school, that oasis of sanity and common sense and hope all mingled joyously into one soul, died. I had to force myself to write that word. Even though I know from my hospice work that there is NO way Nancy 'slipped away', I want to use that phrase instead of that word died. She had such a great sense of humour that I think she would say 'I croaked. And?' 

Because to her it was probably terribly unfair, and horribly painful in so many ways that making simple statements of fact would somehow make it easier to bear for everyone. Nancy was not a whiner.

I'm trying. In her honour, I'm trying. But it ain't easy. 

Because of the time difference it was late-ish here when the email hit the inbox. 

Thought you would want to know ... Nancy passed away today

Just that, as though he'd just heard and those were the only words he could bring himself to say at that awful moment. The friend who emailed me the news is Number Two on the list of people I do not want to ever have to hear has passed. There were three people on that list. Nancy, Bruce, and Bonnie. And now Nancy is gone. Now there are two people on that list.

We're at that age now. People are going to start passing, slipping away. Life has a way of reaching out and saying 'Time', and even though Nancy was stricken with cancer, we are at that age now when people start passing out of our reach forever in significant numbers. When I got the reply-to-the-reply email last night around 11pm Scotland time from Bruce that she'd been diagnosed with brain cancer late last year I was shocked, I really had hoped that great heart of hers had simply stopped, peacefully, in her sleep. I know that hoping for that at our age is silly, that peaceful, 'taken in her sleep' passing is for much older folk than we are just now. 

No, at our age people begin to die of things like cancer. That's how my generation begins to die off, we die from cancer if we've made it to our fifties. It's not until our sixties that we start to die from cumulative heart disease and diabetes, our seventies that strokes begin to steal our lives, and then in our late seventies and eighties, if we are really-really lucky, we start to slip away in the night whilst sleeping.

In our twenties it's war, drugs overdoses, and car crashes we have direct responsibility for mostly, if we die; in our thirties and forties it's from plane wrecks caused by lunatics with bombs or pilot error or freak weather, or drinks-drugs driving crashes caused by other people, or 'life-style related' AIDS (injected drugs and/or unprotected promiscuous sex). 

Few of the people I went to high school and college with have died, but those who have, have died at those ages from those causes. Rarities, shocking, but part of Life and too easily 'got over' because the reasons they died were part of Life. Gasp, sniffle, shrug, depending on what happened, and then we're 'over it'. Life, it's what happens.

But no-one likes to think about the way we die when we are in our fifties because for some reason the inevitability and the finality and the expectedness of dying in one's fifties is just not something we want to think about. We don't want to pre-plan our funerals, make out our wills, spend more quality time with our loved ones because dammit, it's just so freakin' unfair that we are SO much closer to dying than we are to living once that fiftieth birthday has come and gone! So we revert to childhood magical thinking and decide not to think about it. 

Nancy leaves behind parents, siblings, an ex-husband, and two young adult children. And friends. Many, many grieving friends. All of whom are trying to process the utter unfairness of such a shining light in the morass of Life being so completely unfairly made to suffer that way in the last months of her life. 

I am so glad I am not the hospice chaplain on this, there is not a snowballs chance in hell that I could find any words to explain to a 19 year old kid why his brilliant, beautifully souled mother had to die in such a spectacularly unfair and agonising way. There just isn't. I'm having a lot of trouble explaining it to myself. Even though I know. Because Nancy was a real Christian. It was not a 'Jesus Freak' fad with her. It was not a 'Holier than thou could possibly hope to be' Christianity that my friend Nancy had going on from Day1 back at Bolsa Grande High School. 

It was 'Yeah, I believe. And?' 

Nancy was Real. And I'm going to miss her. We lost contact after a few years, and like everyone, I always thought there was going to be time to reconnect in a more meaningful way than 'Oh hey, I saw Nancy at the reunion and she said to say Hi!' But there wasn't. 

Dear Nancy, 

I know you are dancing with Jesus right now. One of these days I hope I get to cut in:) 

Thank-you for being my friend, thank-you more than words can EVER express! 

But oh Nancy, how I wish I'd tried to say thank-you before you slipped away. I am pretty sure you knew, and I'm pretty sure you would think I'm being silly, but you taught me so much about being quietly courageous and loudly fun, and living with common sense as the carpeting on the Christian foundation. Thank-you. Thank-you, thank-you.

Love always,


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