A Long Goodbye

I’ve come for a short break, seeking comfort in an overstuffed chair, an iced coffee on the table. I’m mesmerized by the Midwestern customers in all of their midwesterness. Even those seeking edginess retain an essential decency and wholesomeness. I watch the steady stream of white-shirted, black-panted businessmen as if they were zoo exhibits. What is this species? After working for a significant time with military organizations, I spot the lethal seriousness this army has about its missions, at least from the jargon-saturated mobile phone conversations held at a level so all of us can hear just how important each one of these guys is.

It’s easy to be distracted. I don’t want to think or, more accurately, I don’t want to feel. I need a respite. I need a break from grief and its sadness and tears.

In the June 28 post, “Lullaby and Goodnight,” I wrote about my cat Thomas who is nearing death. We’re in hospice mode, and as the title of the song that just played, “sitting in limbo.”

Last night the vet gave me a list of several behaviors to look for that signal active dying. It was the sort of conversation I’ve sat in on and had with scores of families as their loved ones were dying when I was a chaplain years ago. Today I thought it was time to follow the advice I offered families, because Thomas has been a part of my family for 14 years.

Under the myriad circumstances others face in watching someone they love die, I usually encouraged them to take breaks from the bedside. For one, the dying often want and need privacy. Giving them space is a gift of love. Plus, family and friends need a bit of time to themselves, too. They also need to be reminded of their connection to life and that life goes on, even if it is completely different without the living presence of the loved one. Getting away is necessary as a way to take care of yourself in order to offer the care and compassion you want to extend to the dying. When it got to the point today when I could not look at Thomas without crying and feeling the weight of my grief at his impending death, I knew it was time for a break — for my sake and for Thomas’.

I have a plan for when the time comes, even more important since we are not at home. If he shows signs of distress, I found a nearby vet where we can go to ease the process. It’s a decision of compassion, not a choice between life and death. It’s taken this break from Thomas’ side to see more clearly what’s in his best interest.

The song that plays now has a chorus that includes the words “when the right time comes ….” It has been good to have a break, and now it’s time to go back to wait for that time.


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