A friend of mine fell down a deep hole on a black night—no moon to light his path or warn of danger ahead. This is not a parable, it really happened. He went out to find a place to relieve himself while visiting friends in an un-serviced region in North Africa. They were digging a new latrine and he fell into the hole they had diligently excavated. So deep he could not get out. He needed help.
He was surprised at his findings. Besides feeling great gratitude that no bones were broken or that he was even alive, he was genuinely astonished at the discovery that in a few seconds (or less) "your whole life flashes before your eyes," His mind flipped through a long sequence of memories from his life as he tumbled to the bottom of the hole.
Another friend described how her journey as a companion to a loved one facing death was one of great healing for him as he reflected on his past. His slow journey was filled with grace and he was ready and at peace in his last days. Her comments left me with a completely revised option for how I could view end-of-life reconciliation of past, present and future.
That journey toward the horizon where our time on this planet ends is where we find out what is really beyond—because no matter how much we think we know, we are facing a great unknown. It is helpful to face that with hope and faith. But it is still a first and last for most of us.
This final passage is above all a singularly "alone" journey. Something we navigate without the actual companionship of anyone who goes through the same "porthole" as we do. We may go at exactly the same time, but it is still a journey we cannot share.
But we will all face it. By surprise, some of us. Or with a slow waning of breath and strength for many of us.
What we have in common is that the journey will invite us to reflect on our lives. As it did for the sudden fall of a friend into a black hole and for a friend who walked through cancer with her fiance in her mid twenties. It is a journey that will invite us to ask what was of most value to us and what we perhaps regret. It will invite us to think back as we are pushed forward into a whole new dimension.
And if we are lucky, or blessed, or both...we will have someone to talk with who is interested in hearing those stories or reciting them back to us—"Remember the time...." We will have the option to share our values and memories, like the friend who told me that in facing death and preparing for departure, her beloved partner found healing for his soul's wounds. "It was beautiful," she said.
If you have a chance to share time with someone who knows they are facing death, I encourage you to embrace the opportunity for reflection. Tell the stories of events that gave you joy and meaning together. And then end with a short observation—"You know, what I love best about that story/time/memory is that we shared......" Or, "I love that you were able to ..... in that story/at that time. That will always mean so much to me."
Because no matter how hard it is to watch a loved one die—and it is hard, it really is. No matter how alone it feels to you and you know it is an alone journey for them—there are some deep roots that you share. And even in silence, when the time for words has passed, those roots, I believe, are felt by the soul and give comfort to those we love who are facing what is beyond that great horizon that has been so hard to look at, but now looms as the main view.
The quiet presence of love and delight—yes, your delight in the joy you have shared that is now feeling torn and splintered by death—that quiet presence has to now be the comfort that you both need.
And there is grace, immense grace and love, coming from over that horizon to embrace you.
I write on how humans develop and grow through challenges we face. I've divided this into three categories--Growing Love is about relationships and how we create conditions for growth despite the inevitable challenges. Cloudburst is about grief, specifically—which is a tricky topic. We need to keep growing but pushing is the opposite of helpful. And in Dancing on Hot Sand I talk about personal inner growth in hard places—spiritual growth, without sounding religious, I hope.