My Uncle Vic is dying like he lived – quietly, gently, at home surrounded by people who love him.
When I put my hands on Vic’s head he moans a satisfying sigh. “I’m ready,” he had told had his wife, his children, his hospice workers. He was clear that he was at peace, felt complete, and ready to go.
Yet he doesn’t understand why he is still here. It’s day 12 without any food. He has a willingness to go and, yet, he’s still here. Why? I explained that what he experiences as “ready to go” is the combination of personality, soul and spirit that make up the man that we all love as Vic. What doesn’t want to die, is the aspect of himself that is the animal nature whose job is to live no matter what. The instinctual nature and the self are intricately and literally tied together. If he wished, I’d be willing to help these two major aspects communicate to see if they could get on the same page to let go. He nodded in relief.
It is an awesome, exhilarating and daunting task to be asked to guide someone to let go. My usual work is to help people use the body as the gateway to joy by expanding into the places of fear and sorrow. In this spaciousness they can experience more possibilities.
With Vic I wanted to help him see how his natural expansion; his love and wanting to care for his family is what is keeping him tethered. Yet, to invite him to contract away from life in order to expand into the great mystery of death…well, who am I to know any more about this than Vic? So I did what I always do, became as present as I could in the moment.
Here is the moment: a warm head, requests for “mas agua, por favor” (as a world traveler Vic had visited many Spanish speaking countries and kept asking for water in Spanish), my father nearby tapping his fingernails on the table in an annoying way, conversations in the next room, song of sparrows outside, the rush and pulse of the life force beneath my hands which are held in silent inquiry.
It was hard to feel sadness at the vitality and life that still coursed through the body of this once robustly alive man. Not in the most present of moments; the clicking of nails, Vic’s life force, his clarity, the love that filled the home, the sweet memories.
Vic was my favorite adult at the family gatherings when I was young. He sat at the kid’s table and endeared himself to me by his very acceptance of our kid-ness. He didn’t act childlike or condescending or like a guard. He just let us be ourselves. As an adult, older than Vic when he sat at the kid’s table, I had the great fortune to travel to Myanmar (Burma) and Cuba (where the photo was taken) with Our Developing World, the company he founded with his wife Barby of 60 plus years. On a flight across central Cuba I heard his meet cute story and early romance of Barby and navigating the sometimes treacherous waters of his soon to be mother-in-law.
Vic taught me so much in life about quiet strength and acceptance.
In death he taught me that joy is close at hand. At the open doorway to the mystery beyond, he showed me that Joy is present in the sweet sadness of farewells.
Bon Voyage, Dear Vic.