On February 27, 2015, I lost a friend. A couple of weeks later, I went to his funeral.
Sometimes friendships take years to develop. Other times they are forged in minutes. This one was somewhere in between.
At the funeral service I reminisced with my new friend’s daughters, who had also become friends, about how touched I was when he would compliment me and others. He liked coffee. We drank tea. We ate cookies. He preferred none. We shared space, conversation, music, and fragments of life with him and his wife and family.
We talked about the weather and incidentals that didn’t matter at the time, but in the end somehow mattered a great deal. He rarely sang. On one occasion he joined in a rendition of Amazing Grace. His wife often shared stories of their life together. We loved the one about their place in Montreal with the woman who may have been of “ill repute.”
“You lived in a brothel?” I teased, and we all laughed.
We admired the matching boutonniere and corsage he and his wife wore on their 68th wedding anniversary. Sixty-eight years of marriage. That’s something.Then he became gravely ill. I didn’t know his nickname or that he liked to laminate things. I found out at his funeral. I can’t imagine how devastated I will feel when Mom leaves, and my heart goes out to our newfound friends on the loss of their beloved husband and father.
After the funeral, I told them about a poem that made me feel hopeful about death and dying:
The Sailing Ship
What is dying?
I am standing on the seashore.
A ship sails to the morning breeze and starts for the ocean.
She is an object and I stand watching her
Till at last she fades from the horizon,
And someone at my side says, “She is gone!” Gone where?
Gone from my sight, that is all;
She is just as large in the masts, hull and spars as she was when I saw her,
And just as able to bear her load of living freight to its destination.
The diminished size and total loss of sight is in me, not in her;
And just at the moment when someone at my side says, “She is gone”,
There are others who are watching her coming,
And other voices take up a glad shout,
“There she comes” – and that is dying.
Bishop Charles Henry Brent (1862-1929)
When I reread it, I realized how it might also apply to people with dementia.
This line in particular struck me:
“The diminished size and total loss of sight is in me, not in her…”
I feel more strongly than ever that people with dementia are here with us, and that the loss lies not in them, but in our inability to fully see them.
There is hope in the journey and the possibility of renewed life in distant places.
Pink sails are a bonus.