"Life's not the breaths we take, but the moments that take our breath away."
As I stared at the frail shadow laying before me of the man who I always remember towering over me with an easy air of vigor, wit and a grounded worldlessness, I was stunned. This was not how I thought it would be. The gasping and struggling, the cruel uncomfortable moaning spoke nothing of the mystery and myth that I imagined sending a loved one to the other side would hold. This was mean. I could not even say unfair, as the man had lived a generous and glorious 92 years. I could not argue with the need to pass after ones long work is done, but wouldn't it be better if he was just handed a gold watch and ushered into glory? It was mean. Mean in the fashion of it being common. Gutteral. Natural like bodily fluids and stench. Noone tells you this. Noone tells you that one day the patriarch of the family will be at the mercy of you, to move his arms and legs, clean away the mess, tend to whether he is cold or warm, and decipher grunts and groans to decide how comfortable it can be.
A strange irony to me was that this great now fallen man was resting on a sheet covered in cartoon dalmatians. Perhaps to anyone else it may have seemed inappropriate for the scene, but to me it brought comfort. I sensed the presence of my sweet dalmatian partner of over a decade who not two years ago I held as I felt her spirit leave her body. I still hadn't healed that hole in my heart, but that didn't matter. Not here at this mortal scene.
Each loved one that I have lost in the moments of their death has given me something. My horse Buster who I stayed with through the rain until making the decision to send him on still drives me on. Great equine friends who gave all they had made me who I am. Their loss is significant. But their leaving is something else.
After the morphine kicked in, and my family had spent several rounds singing Bangala hymns around my grandad's bedside, in the quiet bustle of preparing dinner and chatting about the next day, my father called us in. We held his hands and quietly offered him into heaven. I felt his spirit rise. But in a subtle, peaceful way. There were no angels or trumpets. It was like he had just walked into the other room. But I'm clear that I saw him kick up his heels on the way.
I know that this story is old. And I know that it's not mine. I know that the humanity we share means that we share these griefs. They say death is the great equalizer. Then our grief must be the most equal and common thing we have. Though it doesn't usually feel that way.
Through this experience I began to imagine what grief must look like. Based of course, on what it feels like. I imagine a big cannonball, chained to a leg. It feels really heavy and impossible at first, but after a while you tend to get used to having it there. And like it would be lugging around a big cannonball, I suppose that you may even gain some strength from having it drag behind you so long. Perhaps you take it upon yorself to pick up the cannonball, so that it is easier for you to move around. And then sometimes you can put it down and leap and play and be happy, but all within the limits of your chain. Many people start looking at their grief ball a little differently, break out their hammer and anvil and work on reshaping it to a figure of their choosing. Some people make beautiful works of art out of their grief. But like all art, it is personal, and sacred. And no matter what it looks like, it is a blessing when shared.