I am not gone, I did not leave
I am here yet, pray do not grieve
I am still the one you knew
Only my body’s reign is through
You can still see me if you try
In memories of years gone by
In smiles we shared, in tears we shed
In thoughts we had, in words we said
I am not gone, we did not part
I live here still within your heart
We die in stages until the ultimate surrender of the physical being. That is the litmus that to most of us signifies death and seals our being. I think it is, as with most things, all about the view. It is as much a state of mind as it is a state of being.
Several years ago, my wife was diagnosed with cancer. Up until that day, we had only casual concerns about her weight loss and a growth that had insinuated itself upon her neck. Thyroid we surmised. Better go have it looked at. As a result of that appointment, life shifted into fast forward. Quickly, we were referred to an ENT, then an Oncologist followed by chemo and radiation treatment. It was then, for the first time, I felt the fear of dying. Not me, but her. Suddenly, my heart felt like it was being squeezed. I started reflecting on our years together and life as we knew it. I began looking for options and solutions. Most of all, I was just scared. Mortality became a priority. I had never bumped up against the possibility of losing half of me. I started making mental bargains with God. If you let her live, I will do everything in my power to assure her comfort. I will support her and do all the things she is unable to do. Yes, I will even vacuum and dust.
Thankfully, he heard me. Now, several years later, we are still together. Life has changed as would be expected. We are in our seventies now and our book of memories has grown quite large. Things we always took for granted are today either difficult or escape us all together. But we still have each other.
I think, in retrospect, the thing that changed the most is me and how I view death. I always thought of it as the departure of the body, and of course it is. But after our ordeal, I now realize that death is more then a physical state. It transcends material life. Had I lost her, part of me would had died too. I would not be the person I used to be nor the person I am. I would have suffered a personal death, a mental death. However, within me she would still live, embarking on a new life, entrusted to me, concealed in my heart.
I often imagine life alone and reflect on all the things I have now that would not exist without her and better understand that the act of dying transcends the personal. We do in fact, live after death. Our being exists within those that we knew, that which we did, and things that we created. We evolve as opposed to depart.
I give a lot more thought now to the ‘could have been’ or ‘what if, reminding myself how close WE came to dying. I am still not prepared for the physical demise of either of us, but I now understand that dying is a lifelong endeavor. We begin dying the day we are born and, although our individual shelf lives vary, we grow closer to the inevitable every day. How fast we progress however, is up to us.