It’s not something we dwell on, but when it’s imminent, it’s in our thoughts constantly.
It’s inevitable, but rarely welcomed. It squeezes our hearts when it happens.
Two dear friends passed on last summer. Both were husbands, brothers, fathers. One was a grandfather, the other nearly so though he wouldn’t have understood the concept.
There is a hollow, undefined space where they used to fill our lives. I still can’t get my mind wrapped around it though we’ve experienced death of loved ones many times. Each loss is different, each situation is unique. Yet the pain of the loss itself is universal.
The first man died due to cancer. What’s worse is that it was avoidable, or at least delayable. We will all die, but death can often be put off if we remain healthy. If he had followed up with the medical community when that spot on his lung first appeared, he may have been given many more years. Alternatively, he could have stopped smoking. Or he could have done both.
We, his friends and family, could not understand his insistence that smoking did not cause the cancer. Smoking does not cause just lung cancer — smoking weakens the body so that an attack of any other disease, including other cancers, can hardly be fought off.
He was a stubborn man. We knew that, but were optimistic through the various treatments he endured. But it didn’t matter. Our wishes, prayers, thoughts and support couldn’t go far enough to counter the cancer that continued to spread throughout his body.
So, we miss him. When I see the bottle of lemon juice in our refrigerator, I think of how he always asked for “Lee-mon” for his sweet tea. When we visit with his son, I know that he misses those fishing trips with his dad. When we spend time with his wife, I know that her husband is not far from her thoughts.
He was often difficult, but love overlooks much. Memories are full of the good stuff.
The other fellow we lost to a rare brain disease. Scans eventually showed great empty spaces in his brain. He lost the ability to read, remember and finally to express himself.
His wife and sons were unbelievably patient. It’s difficult to correct your parent, but it came to that when he forgot how to manage their business. For a while we could still joke with him. His humor continued to reflect the person we’d known, but after a while even that disappeared.
His illness was unavoidable. There was no cause to blame. Once diagnosed, there was nothing but to try various medications to slow down the progression. He would hide the pills. His stubborn personality became obvious when he refused to do something that he didn’t understand.
For a while, he continued to be devoted to and dependent on his wife even though he couldn’t express his appreciation. Eventually, he became unmanageable, and she had to make the heartbreaking choice to put him in hospitals and finally a nursing home under hospice care.
By the time he passed, he was just a shadow of the person we had known. His wife and sons remind me of what a waste it was to have him pass. He was a vibrant part of our community and church. He has a granddaughter now. At least her birth has given some joy to their grieving family.
So, we continue to remember and be supportive. That empty space inside remains, and the heart squeeze will always be there.
Susan Anderson lives in Opelika with her husband. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.