You know how it feels when you pet a cat and it leans forward, into your hands, closing it’s eyes, pushing its head into your palm, purring a bit and wanting more? Or how a tired puppy or and old dog will eventually lay back and enjoy your soothing caress? I’ve learned a lot about the power of touch and the patience of silence during these last few weeks as our kind, friendly neighbor nears the end of his life. Perhaps the analogy is lighthearted but the reality for me is heart warming. Our dear neighbor Howard, lies in a Hospice bed tonight, heavily medicated but pain free and so responsive to my touch.
“Ah,” he said the other day, “that feels so good,” as I held his hand, stroked his forehead, caressed his arm. There was a time silence scared me and I felt compelled to break it somehow but Howard has taught me to wait, to be quiet, to listen closely, to touch softly and cherish each word as treasure.
Wincing eyes, deep breaths, raised arms, squeezing hands and intermittent words, between root-bear-float sips and my flood of (what I thought were silent tears), he softly utters, “Don’t cry.” While I wait through more silence, he opens his eyes and says, “Thank you (both) for being my friend,” then more silence, closed eyes, hand squeezing, more sips, deep breaths and finally, I tell him I spoke to his son the other day. “Tell my son he brought all the love in the world to me,” without any hesitation. A half Kleenex box later and in what seemed to be a realm of ‘time standing still’, I finally whispered his name, leaned in close and made eye contact. I told him I loved him and I’d be back tomorrow. He mustered the strength to say, after more deafening silence, “any time with you is good”.
A few weeks ago he was picking up debris from Hurricane Irma, enjoying coffee brewed from our camp stove (during the 9 day power outage) and a French press he claimed “made the best, real coffee in the world.” But an ER visit, an ambulance ride, a helicopter transport, an emergency surgery and a terminal diagnosis led him to this Hospice bed. Cancer has ravaged its way through the most unsuspecting. It has cut short the relationships we thought would remain for decades. It has summoned tears we try hopelessly to conceal. It has caused hearts to reflect, souls to forgive and spirits dare to live boldly in their honor. But it has also caused regret, if-onlys and it’s-too-late-now realizations.
Those who should be closest to you, should be. Period. Chase after peace. Do everything in your power to remedy the relationships that are coming to your mind as you read this. No one ever gripped the hand of regret skipping happily into the future. Those words you said, apologize. The visit your pride keeps you from, swallow it. The unforgiveness your clinging to, release it, now, while there is time for reconciliation. Standing alongside the death bed of someone you love is difficult enough. Standing there with regret is even harder. Not standing there at all just doesn’t make sense. Read this and with a click of a button, dismiss it, call me a PollyAnna, (or worse) tell me I don’t understand, make accusations all you want or humble your hardened heart, embrace love and chase after reconciliation knowing that tomorrow is not promised, yesterday is gone and your someday is now.