I could tell that he was falling deeper into a more confused and disoriented state. My friend couldn’t comprehend why his family member was acting so rudely in this way. Rather than the light-hearted jokes and kind remarks that were sent back in forth via text or over the phone, the voice on the other end grew distant and cold. They lashed out at everything that my friend said and used the spaces and pauses in-between conversations to bad-mouth my friend who had done so much for this family member. This person was dying and was leaving a dry and bitter taste in the memory of my friend as this person was reaching their end.
I’m not sure why death has been swirling around me this year. Friends have either had their own brushes with death, had family members pass all around the same time, or have recently died. However, the reactions that come from these timely, or untimely, passings have varied widely from complete denial to complete breakdown. What I have learned from all of this is that there is no one right way to deal with death.
Circumstance does not determine how anyone should or would react to death. I have three friends whose grandmas have all died within the last few months. One has come to accept the passing of her grandmother. Although she was sad to see this person go, she felt at peace with the fact that her grandmother had gone on into the next life without pain while sleeping in her own bed. Another friend took the standard week or so off from work and left the room every so often to cry for a while. She was so incredibly close to her grandmother that it hurt, but she eventually found her own smile again and is continuing to live her life.
The third friend hasn’t been heard from since. He took the death of his grandmother hard, changed his entire life, quit his job, and moved away without shedding a tear. The death obviously affected him, but he chose to move away from everything that reminded him of home and his grandmother.
I have spoken to friends who have looked death in its face. Some were open about their battles with cancer, some didn’t want to share aspects of certain diseases that they were diagnosed with, and others fell somewhere in the middle of it all. Many of them found the time to talk about life and whether or not anyone is ever truly prepared to deal with death themselves or the death of a loved one. Every last leaf on the branches of cold dying trees in the late stages of autumn falls differently. Their various shapes and colors affect the way the tree looks and behaves, and without the deaths of these leaves, there would be no transition from the vibrant life of summer to the lifeless gray of winter.
Not all death is that quick and painless slip into the abyss by way of peaceful sleep. It could be confusing and messy, numbing, or sometimes a relief. It’s never one thing for one person who has crossed over onto the other side, and for the living left behind, they could accept it or not accept it in a billion different ways.
For those wanting to be there for someone who is dying or for someone dealing with grief, I’ve found it beneficial to be a good listener first. You will never have all the right answers and you should never pretend to do so. Know that explanations and advice are in most cases unwelcomed and that offering help with practical tasks or sharing a few kind words goes a little farther in most cases. Although I feel bad for my friend who is watching his family member slip away, I know that all I can do is be there when they need me.