A Covid19 preemptive strike against dying alone
I’m not sick. I’m healthy and I mean to stay that way.
I am sixty-five. In our family configuration, I’m the only logical one who can do the errands for my 94-year-old mother-in-law with dementia and my wife who has rheumatoid arthritis.
Don’t worry. I’m careful. We all are.
We have gloves and masks and hand sanitizer and Lysol and bleach. We wash our hands often, wipe down the doorknobs and faucets, keep the counters spotless. Every time we go out and come back in, I come in through the basement (where there’s a washing machine and another bathroom), I strip and put my clothes and my sneakers in the wash immediately, shower, and put on the clean set of clothes I’d preset before I left.
Still, being careful is no guarantee. It’s just smarter than being cavalier.
The nature of this disease is that if you succumb, 1) it will happen very fast, and 2) you are going to die alone. The fear and the physical toll (according to accounts shared by those who have witnessed it) would no doubt overwhelm any ability you might have to tell your loved ones everything you’d want them to know before you go. You’re too busy struggling to breathe. Up until the last moment.
And then you’re gone.
I’m not letting Covid19 rob me of the chance to say what I need to say to the people I love. And even if death doesn’t come for me until decades from now (which is the most likely scenario), I still will have said what I needed to say. So here’s my letter, in case I don’t make it. (And obviously I will be writing the much more person versions of this for my family members. But this is a good general start.)
Everyone should write one of these. It’s a very illuminating exercise.
Dearest family of mine, Contemplating one’s own death is a well-known Buddhist practice. It’s been part of my spiritual practice to continually remember impermanence. To keep in mind that no thought, feeling, or situation is permanent. Everything passes. And so will I someday.
This is coming to you from an imagined future in which I couldn’t speak the following words to your face. This is coming to you in case there wasn’t time to say it before I was quarantined and/or unable to communicate. This is coming to you from my heart to your heart.
First of all, I am so proud of each and every one of you. Even though I don’t like the word “proud.” It conjures a puffed-up feeling of ownership — as though what you’ve done with your lives reflects somehow on me — and that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about how happy I am that you’re alive at all, that you’re in this world. So happy that this world could have you in it, doing the things you do that make it better. I’m talking about loving how you’ve navigated your lives, fought your way through sometimes insurmountable obstacles. How you created beauty in a world against the odds, how you learned to be true to yourselves. Having you in my life has been the full, clean well of joy in my heart.
Second, I know that I’ve been blind and thoughtless, sometimes even cruel. I am sorry for all the ways in which I didn’t meet you where you needed to be met because I was too self-involved to notice. My heart aches for the do-over. Just know that I know: there were times I remember when I hurt you; there were times I don’t remember when I hurt you; and there were times I never knew about when my decisions, in one way or another, hurt you.
Please forgive me for all of it.
Third, my love for each and every one of you is an unending stream of light. It will continue way past my passing. I will watch over you from the other side. I will use all my points to move whatever events I can in your favor…if points are a thing, which they’re probably not over there. Whatever. I will be with you in whatever way the laws of Elsewhere make room for. And fourth, this is how I want the story of my death to be held in your hearts:
This was horrifying. Yes. And unfortunately, you only know the terrible, heartbreaking part. You know nothing of what came after all that. This is why I need to tell you, why you need to know. I want you to have the whole story. After lying in bed for a week while they tried to find, and then put me on a ventilator, I was so exhausted from the pain and the cold and how hard I had to work for each breath, I didn’t have the energy to fight anymore. I just wanted the pain to stop. In my delirium, I saw something out of the corner of my eye. A light forming at the foot of my bed. A warm white light that got stronger and brighter as I watched. This light turned into a tall brilliance, more like an oval orb radiating with all the strength of a woman and all the gentleness of a man. It just hovered there, pulsating. Then it gravitated closer to me. “Is it time? Is it now?” I asked, more with my mind than my mouth. I felt its yes. “Not sure I’m ready.” Still, I was so tired it felt like the end. But this ‘Lightfriend’ (for want of a better name) somehow communicated comfort and quiet. The closer it got, the better I felt. And then in seconds, all my pain melted away from me into its light. I could breathe. I could move. I was warm. I was…healed! It reached out and touched my heart and right away, the machine that had been beeping away every couple of seconds for a week, it made that long beeeeeeeep and my body wriggled out of itself and turned into a really bright, bunched up baby ball of light, kind of like the Lightfriend’s only smaller. Lightfriend said, “Pace yourself, now. Be still. Just stay with me for a minute while everyone does what they do.” The door burst open and nurses came in and a doctor, everyone all covered up and inside their gloves and masks and hats and stuff. They felt my throat and looked sad. They turned off the beeping machine. Someone said the time and the date and then they covered up the b — wait a minute— that was me! That was my body. They were wrapping up my body! How can that be when I’m over here? I tried to tell them, “Hey guys, I’m ok. It’s ok— ” but the Lightfriend stopped me. “They can’t hear you. They can’t see us.” I looked down at my hands but they weren’t there. Just light. I looked out the window and in a split second, I was the window with the world watching through me into the room. This was terrifying. I willed myself back inside, aiming at the Lightfriend but missing by a lot. None of the laws I knew applied. I wobbled around, bouncing here and there, disoriented and panicking. Lightfriend calmly drew me near with its gentle pull and spoke to me through its love. (I know how that sounds, but there’s no other way to put it. It wasn’t words. It was a clear communication of some sort, and it just felt like love.) “Don’t worry,” it pulsed. “Everyone goes through this. Just go easy on yourself. Get used to working with energy on a much subtler plane. You are light now. Take your time and experiment. Go slow. Have a look around. Find your levels. “Besides, we can’t leave until you’re ready anyway. So go. Feel it out.” I had no idea what it was talking about or how to start. Find my levels? No idea. But suddenly I was in the top corner of the room looking down at everyone. I buzzed there for a minute, then zoomed down and around, whizzing by the bed and the equipment and the people. I wondered if I could just go through the door. I kind of did, but penetrating it felt way too weird. I lost my nerve and pulled back, but my Lightfriend smiled and gently nudged me through from behind. I found the nurse’s station and whirred there for a minute. They looked so beat up and tired and discouraged. I wanted them to feel better. Immediately, there was light beaming from me in their direction. One of them stopped and his face changed. He turned and looked in my direction like he was looking for something he loved. A half smile on his face. And then it hit me. Hard. My family! My wife. My sons, my daughter. My grandson. My friends. My home. My back yard. My music, my words, my birds, my dog, my life, my work, my numbers, my sewing machine, my quilts, my clothes, my winters, and snow and sun and rain and trees and grass and earth. Earth. The whole earth. Everything! The ocean and swimming and sunburn and traffic jams and naps and conflicts and growth and bars and movies and, and, it’s all, all, all gone. My Lightfriend glowed next to me. “It’s not gone,” it whispered. “All those things — they are the streams of life that flow through you. They are and will always be connected to you — in different ways now than before. Before, your people had to call or text or email you. Or come see you. You had to go and find snow, or protect yourself from the rain, or swim in the water. “Now, you are all of it. You are the living stream flowing through all of it, all of them. “You are the espresso maker, and the coffee, and the almond milk, and the cup, and the daughter, and her lips to the cup, and the drinking, and the pleasure. You are the graphite in the pencil moving over paper that sits in the son’s lap. You are his hand and the lines and shadows and images that come to life there on the pad. You are the rain and the earth that fed the tree that became the guitar in the other son’s arms. You are his vocal cords, the air that becomes his song. You are the listeners and the listening. You have dissolved into the whole world.” It pulsated again. “You have dissolved into the whole world.” I let that sink in. Yes, but…never again to throw my arms around my children? Never again to wake up and see my wife’s beautiful, life worn face, smiling over at me, still sleepy? Never again to pick up a book or eat a meal or listen to jazz or throw a ball? Never again to blow raspberries into my baby grandson’s foot? This pain was much worse. Much deeper and different. I found myself wishing for the time when the machine was still hooked up and I was still struggling to breathe. My Lightfriend moved closer to me and exhaled a wind of awareness into my being. And just like before when its presence had dissolved my physical pain, now the breeze blew away my grief and confusion and I began to understand. I haven’t left this world. I’ve seeped into its essence — and now I am everywhere. My light exists in the dirt of the garden and in your shirt pockets. It’s in the wind, and the road and the rearview mirror. I am in my children’s bones, and my grandson’s wisps of hair, and they are all walking me forward into their lives. I ride in their bloodstream, closer to them now than ever before. I am in my wife’s heart, a light pulsating comfort and joy and peace, I am the birds fluttering around her bird feeder. I am the scent of garbage, and garlic, and gardenia in her life. I am every ladybug she ever sees from now on. I am breathing in every single molecule of the world. Just light. Just love. There really is nothing but that in the end. It’s the only thing there is, and it’s everywhere. Let me love you all now through each other, and through everyone you meet and everything that happens. Let every point of beauty in your lives be my personal gift to you, literally from me directly to you. Let the sound of laughter, and the upwelling of joy, and the deliciousness of relief, and the yum of a hot bubble bath with no interruptions, and the peace of solitude, and the solace of friendship, and the taste of everything you love to eat and drink…everything you love to listen to, and feel, and know, and see… Let all those things be, for you, the gifts I’ve sent you from this unfathomable emptiness and space, this unending light and awareness. Every moment of love and beauty from now on is a spirit-text from me to you, from the great Elsewhere to wherever you are now. Feel my arms around you in everything that brings you joy. Know that I walk with you every step of the way, all the way to your own birth (whenever that comes) into this spacious everything where I live now. See you on the flip side.