Someone I used to know once told me the husband of a friend of hers was a mountain climbing guide. This man belonged to a club of mountain climbers, and used to lead teams ascending great big rocks. Maybe it was K2, or Everest, or who knows where this was. But supposedly he was leading an expedition when a storm blew in and compromised the safety of the whole team. The man guided everyone off the ledge they were on, saving all their lives, and then the ledge gave way and he fell several hundred feet to his death.
He died doing what he loved, they all said.
Not at all like lying in a hospital bed, coughing your lungs up, with your pancreas and gall bladder erupting in severe pain like a grenade going off in your abdomen every few minutes. And that’s after they give you the morphine.
My mother squeezed my hand as she bore these eruptions of pain last night. Even as she slipped into sleep she squeezed tightly. Every few minutes, whether her eyes would open or stay closed, she would blurt out, “Make it stop!” It reminded me of the birth of my oldest child. But I couldn’t tell her she was going to get a new son from all of this, or that it would be over with soon.
My mother smoked two packs of cigarettes every day for more than 50 years. I felt like a terrible son thinking this was her sentence, self-imposed though it was.
And then she blurted out, “Let me out of this cage!”
I have rarely seen my rock of a wife cry. But this was a chisel.
In a sense, my mother is dying doing what she loves.
The guy on the ledge didn’t have time to think about how death was going to feel, or how it would impact his loved ones, or how many surgeries he would have to endure. The ledge broke, he started to fall, and he knew he would be dead in less than ten seconds.
My mother has a few months to look around from her ledge.