Death is the opening of a more subtle life.
In the flower, it sets free the perfume;
in the chrysalis, the butterfly;
in man, the soul. ~ Juliette Adam
I went to visit a friend from my church family last night. A family that reminds me on a weekly basis that the definition of family does not necessarily rise from biological ties; but I guess that is a blog topic for a whole other time...
Patty is someone, until last night, I didn't know too many intimate details about. We have mutual friends at church and have spent time together socially because of those friends. One of those mutual friends passed away three months ago and her death still leaves a deep hole not only in my church family, but in my heart as well. Pretty soon, this will happen again. In my rare moments of thinking "it's not fair", I think about how difficult it will be for my church family to experience two great losses like this in such a short period of time.
Patty has one of those personalities that makes you happy to be around her. She just cracks me up. Her quick wit and laugh brighten up the most somber of situations. She has a gift for story telling in which the endings throw you for such a curve ball, that it makes you wonder if maybe some of the details were not embellished a bit!
So for the first time, I went to Patty's home last night to visit her and her partner Penny. In all of the years that I have known them, I don't ever remember seeing one of them without the other by their side. I will never forget how affected I was the first time I saw them holding hands in church. Their love, as well as their faith, was palpable. Now that they are in the last journey of their physical life together, that love and faith just flows through all the space that surrounds them.
It is a very surreal experience to see someone like Patty, who is so full of life, confined to a hospital bed in her living room; tubes and such coming from every direction. You would think that as a nurse, I would be used to that by now. But I don't think you ever get used to the physical appearance of cancer. It would appear from what Penny has told me, that the progression has been pretty rapid over the past few days. Despite her weakened voice and occasional confusion, what the cancer has not taken though is her spirit and the abounding love she shares with Penny.
I know that Patty and Penny have been together for a long time but I did not realize that it has been 34 years. As they held hands and looked at each other, Patty talked about how much Penny means to her. Penny talked about how little they argued over those 34 years. Listening to them talk, I felt so blessed to be in the midst of a love story like theirs.
There is something very calming and spiritual to be in the presence of a person who is not only dying, but has made peace with the fact that they are dying. Nothing is held back. They enjoy every moment of your presence and you enjoy theirs. They tell you that they love you. You hold their hand. There are no pretenses, no moments of awkwardness. You make sure they know the impact they have had on you. You laugh together and then etch the sound of their laugh in your memory. You don't say goodbye because no matter what, you know that you will see them again...