The Last Words to a Dying Man

What a surreal existence to be between life and death, between now and ever after, between the seen and the unseen, between waiting – unknown – sadness – confusion – hope.

This is where I find myself lately. My husband, chronically ill with neurological Lyme disease and wasting away in front of my eyes with weight loss, muscle loss, and paralysis, is here now, but may pass at any moment. Any day. Any time. I go to bed at night wondering if the nurse will startle me awake in the middle of the night to the sadness that seems more and more inevitable. I go to bed at night considering what I last said to my husband, what I looked like in case this is the last image of me he will see, and contemplate how many more days he will be with us.

This evening I started considering last words. This was prompted by a letter that came in the mail. The letter contained the last words from a colleague, a note crafted in an effort to capture the essence of years worth of a relationship. Ultimately, it came down to one paragraph. The card itself was lovely – beautiful in material and verse – and likely to have been chosen after some deliberation. The words inside came down to a 6 sentences of final thoughts from one man to another. I am sure these words also came after much deliberation. What to say? So much time had passed, much sadness with a relationship that thought solid only to fade quickly when pressure came. But a relationship nonetheless. And a relationship at one time that provided nourishment for both souls. Although years had passed since the falling out, the betrayal, and the bitterness that had worn away the bond between these two men, their memories were there and the reminder that goodness can prevail regardless and that forgiveness has its place was evident with the arrival of the letter.

My husband Jim was awake when I came into his room, letter in hand. These periods of alertness are too few and far between these days and my surprise was clear when I stumbled into the room, scrambling to find my words. My choice was obvious – the letter was sent to Jim and it was my job to read it to him. I began, “The letter is from Josh Colleague.” I waited for a signal to proceed. There was none. There aren’t many signals lately from Jim. I proceeded. I showed Jim the card – read the card’s words and paused. Then I read Josh’s words. I found my voice crackling: I fought back the tears. I looked to Jim. Nothing on his face. This too is not unusual these days. Heavy medication and extreme, constant pain will do that to a person. I paused. I continued. The words were heartfelt. The overall message was “I remember” and “you matter to me.” I fought back the tears again.

Ultimately the words themselves were irrelevant. The note itself was the important part. The relationship. The reminder. The time someone took to acknowledge that another matters.

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7 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Kevin Snyder on April 17, 2014 at 12:08 pm

    Knowing Jim, the last words won’t matter or the last way you look when he sees you last Erica. Jim’s life is an inspiration and he has been a role model to so many. Even when he is not here the kids will know him and see him as a role model for how he fought. I am so saddened for you, our prayers are with you all. Of all of my friends that I have had since high school , none have given me so many vivid memories as Jim. I am so so happy that you both were in our wedding and he was my best man, no 2 words could fit Jim better then ‘best man’. I love you

    Kevin

    Reply

  2. Posted by Monica on April 17, 2014 at 1:08 pm

    I’m sorry to read that things have turned out this way. I pray for God to give you strength and wisdom (and some rest) and peace for all your family.

    Reply

  3. Posted by Peggy on April 17, 2014 at 2:38 pm

    Wow Erica, very powerful and moving . . . as always you have brought tears to my eyes and many thoughts to ponder. We pray that Jim is comfortable and are confident that he hears what you say and feels the love that surrounds him. Our Lord is a merciful one and He is there with all of you, and Jim knows that too.
    With so much love and prayers,
    Peggy

    Reply

  4. Posted by Melinda Corbin on April 17, 2014 at 2:50 pm

    Hello Erica,

    Reading this was so stirring and heartbreaking at the same time. I think of you and Jim at night when it’s quiet and I wonder what is taking place there. It brings tears to my eyes to think of Jim lying there unable to speak, get up or move. It angers me that he’s (as I’ve read that many Lyme sufferers have due to misdiagnosis) lost so much life and time with you and the children and that you in turn have not had the life with Jim you both expected to have. He’s a blessed man to have you in his life to love him the way you do. He’s always been such a vibrant human being and this just isn’t fair. I question God sometimes…asking Him why one person gets to get well and another doesn’t. Why does one, if they are to die, die quickly and another has to suffer and agonize? I still come back to, as I’ve said before, that we live in a fallible world and He does not cause the illness and pain to happen. That’s not His will. He suffers when we suffer. The ultimate miracle is that we will be with the Lord in Heaven for an eternity. That’s what God wants for us. You will see Jim again and he will be whole and lovely. Of course, I’m still praying, as everyone is, that Jim can still somehow pull through this.

    I’m concerned for you because you have been on auto pilot for so long and have existed in a routine that’s out of the ordinary. I did this when my father was ill for an extended period of time. He never left the hospital for a few months after heart surgery and I was with him daily and most evenings. I’m not even trying to compare that with what you’ve been through, but the time spent as a family caregiver holds many of the same results. Life as you knew it before Jim got sick doesn’t take a back seat, but it gets catagorized in order to fit in the new life of caring for an ill loved one. You’re in a routine that has become your life and what may strike you is all of a sudden not knowing what to do with your day, your time, your emotions. I had put myself on the back burner. I had a miscarriage while dad was sick. I couldn’t let myself deal with it because my dad needed me more. My mother depended on me and that was as it should be. But, after he was gone, I didn’t know how to feel or how to function differently. My husband would leave for work, I’d get Anna to school and then I’d find myself standing in the living room and not know what to do next. I actually fell into a depression. I sort of lost my existance. Reading your book, journal and blog, I can tell you’re much stronger than I was, but just the same, I know you’ve put yourself on that back burner for Jim’s sake and for the kids. Eventually, a new routine will take over as you’re able to let it. People mean well and may seem overwhelming, but please let them help you when you’re ready. You’ll need to just “be” for a while.

    Tell Jim he’s loved and thought of constantly. He will be with us always in our hearts.

    Take good care,
    Melinda

    Reply

  5. Thinking of you, Erica. I remember sitting there wondering when my husband would die, whether I’d be holding his hand (I was) or be miles away in my bed, trying to sleep. He wasn’t able to talk for so long that I was the one with last words. I do remember the last meaningful thing he said to me, which was to thank me for taking him to the hospital when I was no longer able to care for him at home.

    This year my mother has been struggling with these same issues, as my father’s illness began to claim his life. He died on April 6.

    It’s been a sad and hard two years for our family, as these are only two of several losses we suffered, not to mention the grave illnesses diagnosed but survived.

    To be sure you must be feeling such an unwelcome mix of emotion. I’m sure you’re exhausted. I think of you often and pray that you feel strength, love, and peace.

    Sheryl

    Reply

  6. Posted by Allison on April 20, 2014 at 3:56 am

    Thank you for sharing this Erica. We are thinking about you and Jim and the kids all the time. Love, Allison

    Reply

  7. I am so sorry for this horrible trial. I am praying for you and Jim.

    Reply

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