Thanksgiving is a time of gratitude, obviously. But for many, it’s also a time to remember loved ones conspicuously missing from the dinner table. Death and dying are tough topics, but worth talking about even during a holiday weekend.
Last week, one of my favorite bloggers and authors, Catherine Newman, wrote a powerfully moving piece for the New York Times about caring for a lifelong friend as she was dying. I’ve been a fan of Catherine’s since before her second child, Birdy, was born – faithfully reading her thoughts about motherhood and the weird blend of elation, terror, sadness and longing that accompanying the experience of raising babies into children into teenagers. We’re the same age, and our children have grown up together, in a way. I’ve given her book, Waiting for Birdy, to many friends and colleagues, and I consider her a friend I’ve just never happened to meet yet. So when she mentioned on her blog that she’d written about her friend for the Times, I clicked through instantly. And then started to cry.
The article, “Mothering my Dying Friend“, is powerful and sad and unbelievably beautiful. As Catherine writes:
In a Venn diagram of tending helpless people at the extremes of life, the circle of caring for a dying person overlaps almost completely with the one for caring for a baby. Both are repetitive, intimate, often gross, sometimes funny, weirdly frantic even as they’re crushingly tedious, and a total act of devotion. […] And for all of your endless patience there is nothing at the end. Just death, and your only job is a kind of mothering right up to the lip of the abyss.
I know it sounds grim, but I promise you won’t regret reading. Once again Catherine reminds me that we’re all in this together. I’m no longer of an age where my friends are getting married and having babies. Instead we’re caring for dying parents, getting divorced or watching, gobsmacked, as our formerly helpless infants waltz off with the car keys and a promise to not be late. I hope I can weather these and other changes with the same grace and beauty with which Catherine cared for her friend during her last days.
Previously: Author-physician Atul Gawande on dying and end-of-life care , Desire for quality end-of-life care crosses ethnic groups and Stanford doctor on a mission to empower patients to talk about end-of-life issues
Photo by Ben Rea