She said it matter-of-factly, not in a frightened or panicked tone.
“Dying of?” I asked.
“Well, my doctor told me there was some kidney damage from my diabetes. I Googled kidney damage, and I have all the symptoms. I figure I don’t exactly have a couple of decades to live. I might, but I doubt it,” she said. “I don’t want a kidney transplant, and I don’t want the loss of the quality of life that dialysis would bring. I want to just die peacefully and naturally.”
We all must deal with grief….
Not everyone deals with grief in the same way, or at the same pace, or when it is convenient. Some plan for their death – “We all have to go sometime,” they reason. Some prefer to ignore death until they’re crossing its very threshold. Others never deal with it.
What we all eventually must deal with is grief – the loss of something, someone, or some dream – or vision or goal. We may lose a pet, a child, a spouse, a friend, or a job, or opportunity. We may be rejected from a program or university. We may not meet the standards, or qualifications, or health needed to pursue our life’s dreams.
Loss, of anything, is the foundation of grief and the impetus for grieving.
With Sarah, preparing for the eventual loss of her health was how she sought control of the inevitable. So, for the next hour, we talked about her plans – to reduce her belongings, to empty her storage unit, and to declutter her home to reduce stress, and to “tie up loose ends” so no one else had to deal with it all.
We also talked about finding someone to take care of her two cats in the event the worst did happen. She asked about what medical directives she would need and about what the medical process might entail.
Unlike most people, Sarah was not shy about discussing life’s greatest transition – death. As a former police officer, volunteer fire fighter, and EMT in training, she was realistic about death, and about what kidney disease meant, and what the coming years might involve.
When Sarah first started working with me she had some of the personal skills she needed to transition through her grief, but not all of them. Over the next few months we developed a skill set of transition and coping skills that empowered her in every area of her life, allowing her to feel better and more in control of her life.
Together we created a list of people she could call when she needed emotional support. She learned to work her way down the list so no one friend was overwhelmed with her needs.
- Sarah learned to stop and take an inventory of herself when she was feeling out of control. Was she hungry? Angry? Tired? Stressed?
- Sarah learned to create and set boundaries and to become comfortable saying no. She learned to take care of herself emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually.
- Sarah learned what parts of life she was and was not responsible for. She learned it was not her job to save the whole world, but she also learned how she could save a part of the world that mattered to her.
With each new skill set, Sarah learned she could face her health issues, with friends, or alone. She just needed to be heard, acknowledged, and honored. She needed to know someone understood what she was facing. She needed someone to hear that she was facing some significant life decisions and to honor how vulnerable she felt, even though she sounded strong and confident.
“I’m okay with dying when the time comes,” Sarah said. “I just need some reassurance my life mattered, that I was heard, that someone cared for and about me.”
Even strong people, the CEOs, the mothers, fathers, professionals, and others need someone outside of their life to help them see things differently.
We all need someone to hear us, even when we’re not sure what we’re saying makes sense. We all need someone to help us explore options, to see us for who we are, not for who people think we are.
None of us knows what the next few years have in store. Sarah may reverse her kidney damage and live to be 100 or have a heart attack and die tomorrow. We all have transitions to make – some more monumental than others, but transitions all the same.
No matter what happens, Sarah knows she has someone to hear her. She has someone to help her grieve her losses, celebrate her new path, and live a full life until she goes.
Sarah isn’t an unusual client. She’s just a long-time, experienced, and hardworking one. When faced with life’s greatest transition, death, she has that skill set and experience.
Not all of us are facing our mortality now, but all of us face different transitions every day – parenthood, marriage, pregnancy, entering or graduating from college, putting a parent or grandparent into a nursing home, caring for a sick child, or having an adult child return home to live. Having the skills to cope with change enables us to make those transitions shorter, less painful, and even less expensive!