CARE OF THE DYING PART 1: A PERSONAL CONVERSATION ABOUT DYING. INTRODUCTION
by Linda J. Austin
When your fear touches someone's pain, it becomes pity.
When your love touches someone's pain, it becomes compassion. Footnote 1
I sat and watched as my grandmother coaxed my grandfather, Pop-Pop, to eat another bite of applesauce.
"He's eating!" she smiled.
His hand twitched in mine and I wondered if it was a sign of life, or a symptom of the six-month old mass of cancer devouring his brain.
Grandma Grace giggled, "The last time I got him to eat, I did it by putting his hand on my chest." My grandmother was a joyful, rounded, amply endowed woman. "He was so surprised at what I'd done that his mouth fell right open and I put the spoon in!
"That was over a week ago. He's eating for you today."
She smiled. My heart sank. He lay naked in his bedroom where he had insisted that he wanted to stay. His body, once recently exercise-primed, had in less than six months become a canopy of translucent flesh strung loosely between fragile bones - and still he was strong and he ate for me.
That evening Grandma urged me, "If you have anything to say to him, you'd better say it now. You might not get another chance." Guided by her wisdom, I went into his room and took his hand.
I took a moment to gather my thoughts and began, "I love you Pop-Pop. You were always so strong and dignified." Swallowing my tears, I continued, "You deserve to do whatever you want to do, live or die, but please don't do it for me. Don't eat just for me. I can't bear the thought of you struggling to stay alive when death might be much less painful. I don't mean that I want you to die, but I don't want you to suffer for me."
Three days later he passed away. I don't know if he really ate for me. I don't know if he heard what I said to him that night. I don't know if my words helped him to cut the final threads that tied him to his life, but I do know that I am affected by his death.
The story above is that of one of the authors, Erin Williams. She wrote it in 1988, approximately one year after the death of her grandfather.
II. I don't want to talk about it. Difficulties with conversations about dying.
No one wishes to be 'rescued' with someone else's beliefs. Footnote3
Imagine that your father is a on a tour of Romania. He has never been there before and he is traveling alone. While he is on the trip, you think about him, you are afraid for him, you fear that he will run into some people who will take advantage of him, or that he will stumble and fall hurt himself, or that he will get sick. You look at the itinerary he gave you and call him one evening in his hotel. "Hi, Dad! How are you?"
"I'm doing fine, honey"
"Dad, I was worried about you - you