Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Gift of a Long Goodbye

Every so often we are blessed with days, hours, or even just moments that seem to freeze time and transport us to a place different than we were before. While the feelings of the moment may be fleeting since we are always inevitably thrust back into the everyday life of work, children, laundry, bills, etc., I believe that if we let them, these moments can change us forever. If we train ourselves to recognize and truly receive whatever those moments are trying to teach us, we will never be the same again.

I've had these kinds of experiences while immersed in music and nature, when reading powerful words/stories found in great literature or scripture, and in some of my darkest hours of personal struggle when Heaven came down to comfort and guide me. And, of course, I've had this experience at the birth of each of my children. But today, I had this kind of experience through an interaction with another person. It was a fortuitous two hours with a dying man.

My husband's Uncle Brent (and really, he is as much--if not more--of an uncle to me than I ever had in my own family growing up, so I feel funny even writing "my husband's uncle" because of how I feel about him--he's MY uncle) is dying of cancer. After he, his immediate family, and all the rest of us got over the initial shock, denial, and grief of it all, he is blessing us all with the deliberate gift of showing us how to die with dignity, courage, and great love.

I wish there were some way I could have recorded the entire conversation so I could go back over it again and again for both the wisdom and pure joy of it all. We laughed, we cried, we laughed until we cried. I felt privileged to be in the presence of a man who it seems is practically transforming in front of my very eyes from an already great man into someone almost holy. (He'd hate to hear me say that.) I think he would at least agree that this process he is going through is a holy one, but only because he is allowing/inviting it to be. And believe me, I could feel it working it's magic.

It's not really my place (nor is THIS place the place) to share the details of our conversation, but if I could share just a few of the priceless things I took away from this life changing experience it would be these:

1) Many of the seemingly insignificant and even mundane moments of our lives can be seen as great gifts--even miracles--when viewed with an eye of gratitude. As I listened to him talk about how he's been blessed during this whole process, it made me realize how much of my own everyday life should be seen as a rare gift to be cherished. Even the fact that we just "happened" to be at another appointment near his neighborhood, and "happpened" to call to see if he were up to a visit (we've been avoiding it knowing how many other people must be wanting to do the same thing and didn't want to wear him out), and how he "happened" to be home alone with nowhere to be, and we "happened" to be alone without our children and a free morning making it possible to visit the way we did (quietly and personally)--he considered that yet another miracle in his life. And I would agree. 

2) Not only does death bring into sharp focus what is most important in this life, but also what brings us the most joy. My personal interpretation of this is having meaningful experiences and interactions with loved ones. Funny how this whole home purchase obsession just fell by the wayside after talking to him.

3) For those with faith in the next life, death is not a dreaded, fearful thing. He talked about being able to cry and mourn with his family and others who will miss him because he understands that's where they are, but that he himself was not feeling either depressed or anxious. It seemed clear that once he decided to give up aggressive, curative care for palliative care (wanting to enjoy his last days), he started to view this close-to-the-veil time as an opportunity to get a "head start"on the things he will be learning in the next phase of his and his family's eternal life. Things like loving.

4) He talked a lot about loving, or "living in harmony with others" as he put it so beautifully. Not just those closest to us and easiest to love, but everyone. He has always been an incredibly accepting person, and this experience seems to be sharpening that endearing characteristic in him. He spoke of both finally "getting" certain things about his wife, as well as some touching moments he has had with atheist friends and doctors who don't share any of his personal beliefs.

Thinking of my own sister and all the ugliness that comes with longterm cancer, Uncle Brent helped me to remember that cancer can be viewed as an opportunity to see the beauty all around us in this life, to forgive and heal old wounds, and to love in a way you've never loved before. Most importantly, he helped me to see that the process of dying can be a wonderful "head start" to becoming the people we were originally created to be as we move on to the next phase of our eternal development.

And maybe that's why my two hours with Uncle Brent felt like those experiences I've had in nature, with music, while reading powerful words, during prayer, and when giving birth to life itself. Because in the end, death isn't death at all, just another part of creation.

As he said, cancer is the gift of a long goodbye. For now.


  1. Allyson, it's Taunie. I miss you!!! I never got your phone number so please visit my facebook and give me your contact info. Want so bad to catch up. love you! Taunie Reynolds

  2. That is so touching. How is your sister doing? My sister (2 years older than me) has stage IV aggressive breast cancer since May 2010. It has metastisized to her brain and liver. She had whole brain radiation and gamma knife surgery last fall for the brain lesions. Cancer is the cruelest disease ever.

  3. Beautiful Allyson, I will copy this for my journal. Your experience was also Dad's and my experience though I did video clips while Grandpa and Grandma were sitting next to him. We both cried as we left because we wanted more of that spirit, more of being with him. Aunt Carol has been so gracious to have so many people come over. Well, she says, He enjoys it. So glad you could be there to share his alone time when she was gone.


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