In 2010, my vigorous, healthy, active, 74-year old father had a massive stroke that left him able to converse, but not much else. In the crazy and chaotic days immediately afterwards, as I flew across the country, camped out in his hospital room with the rest of my family, and tried to make sense of this terrible new reality, I had an epiphany.
I was standing by the elevators in the hospital, wearing the same clothes I’d been wearing for four days, holding a take-out meal from the hospital coffee shop, sleep deprived and in deep shock. I looked around and it dawned on me that this huge hospital was filled with people like my Dad, my family, and me: people facing a health crisis themselves, or struggling to support loved ones and maintain our own sanity. My life had been blown to pieces. And my my family was not the only one this was happening to.
Then I got angry. I got angry because I was 43 years old, yet I had never considered that this most basic human experience would happen to me or to anyone I loved. We may be young or old when it happens, but all of us will meet illness or death in some way. But I had no idea that it was possible to feel such debilitating pain and heartbreak. I was unprepared, and I was mad because I felt like my culture had failed me.
The situation was so normal, so utterly expectable, yet I had absolutely no warning that it might be coming and no training for how to deal with it. Old and ill people are shuttered away, and grieving families are expected to just keep on keeping on. Suddenly I was feeling the very real implications of my culture’s denial of aging and death.
People get sick and die. It’s part of life. Having to deal with it shouldn’t come as a surprise. We spend so much time and energy preparing for a birth. Why don’t we have the same education around illness and death?
I made a vow as I stood there beside the elevators. My Dad survived his stroke, but he will eventually die. Others in my life will get sick and die. I will die. I vowed that I would not be taken by surprise again. I would learn to be more prepared for what was coming, and I would try to help others do the same.
That vow was one of the seeds that has grown into Soul Passages.
[Update: My dad died in April 2017, and you can read about how we said goodbye to him here]
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