the gift of dying well
Dave’s real name is Lesley. I introduced you to her in doing hard things. She’s a friend and a colleague who has a blog called Jumping The Bandwagon where she talks about trendy things and Iowa-ness and mom-ness and stuff. A while back she posted a piece about her friendship with a man who is terminally ill. For a writer, that’s a tough assignment - distilling big emotions like love and grief into a few words that make sense. You can read her story here.
Dying is the thing we all have in common. When it is sudden, it shocks us, and when it is a longer, drawn-out process it can be agonizing and exhausting to watch. Alternatively; dying can be a beautiful and reassuring process when the one who is dying faster is transparent and honest with those of us who are dying slower.
I also know Brock - Lesley’s dying friend. The shortend timeline of Brock’s life is a big piece of how some of us identify him - he’s the guy who’s dying - but there is clearly much, much more to him than that single element. Brock is the guy who’s dying, but he’s also the smiling, soft-spoken, mellow, thoughtful, generous guy who shows up and involves himself as much as he physically can. He’s the guy who hangs out with the kids on Wednesday nights. If you sit down with him over a plate of food or cup of coffee, he’s the guy who very quickly and comfortably takes the conversation deeper than the surface of small-talk that many of us never penetrate.
If I had to choose one word to describe Brock, that word would be warm because of his non-judgmental acceptance of my presence. Or maybe that one word is open, because of the way he willingly shares his current journey. Or maybe the word is thankful, because there’s a feeling that Brock is squeezing the maximum enjoyment out of every remaining moment: missing nothing and savoring everything that passes before him. Maybe the word is empty, because he’s a widower, and life just hasn’t been the same since he lost Joyce. Or maybe the word is enlightened, because I think a clarity comes to those who are acutely aware of their own impending demise. Maybe this one-word exercise is a fool’s errand - that a human being and his force of life are too big and too mysterious and too miraculous to condense into a single dictionary entry.
Brock is the guy who is dying, but at the same time, he's the one who is living very richly in every moment. Engage Brock in conversation and he’s very matter-of-fact about his situation. He’s not melodramatic, or frantic or panicked as I imagine I would be. He just talks about the dying journey in the tones of one who is doing something interesting for the first time, and learning as he goes. He’s doing the practical work of getting his affairs in order while riding the alternating waves of fear and faith. The great gift that Brock gives us is that he shares the journey so openly in a culture where death and dying are often treated as impolite subjects … like they’re contagious or something.
Dying is not contagious - it’s congenital, and we all have it. Brock is either blessed or cursed to have full awareness as the process plays out, but the rest of us are certainly blessed with the model he presents. As humanity collectively stands and stares into the dreadful unknown, it’s almost as if Brock is calmly saying, “watch me, I’ll go first”.