One of my many cherished memories with my family when my kids were young is traveling together. We visited England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales on two different occasions. In dad form, I forced everyone to simplify and reduce all possessions to three items; Coat. Backpack. Suitcase. Any time we left a hotel or train, the checklist was called out. The response was to be, “Check.” Then off we went.
I also came up with a phrase on our journey that sticks with me today. Before we would move on from a city or destination, I would ask the kids, “Did we do what we came to do?” This means, we came all this way, speak up now or regret it later. In the words of Hamish from Braveheart, “I didn’t get dressed up for nothin.”
As I reflect back on my nearly 30 years of marriage, it’s hard to not focus on the things I wish I would have done or said differently. But those are the small things compared to what I accomplished. There are more important things that I can grasp as I walk forward into my days ahead.
I watched a woman die.
And it wasn’t a quick death either. It was a long, slow process. A caregiver understands that one of the biggest burdens to carry is the weight of waiting. It’s not called a Waiting Room for nothing. Sitting and waiting. Waiting for the nurse to call her name, saying the doctor will see you now. Waiting for test results. Waiting for surgery to be finished. Waiting for her to wake up, Waiting for chemo to finish the slow drip, And the worst of all, waiting for her to die.
Watching someone die is like being voted into a fellowship in which no one seeks to hold office. It was forced upon me. I couldn’t respectfully decline. I didn’t get to have a say. I just had to wait and be sworn in.
But I did what I came to do.
I signed up for it. For better or for worse, for sickness or in health. Thankfully I didn’t understand the fine print at the time. I didn’t know that it would include watching a woman die. I didn’t know it meant having a ringside seat, feeling the fight right alongside her. I felt the reverberation of each punch. I now know the smell of the fight, the scent that lingers long after the bell rings and the body goes down on the mat.
Death Cab has a song that touches on this feeling, titled What Sarah Said. It expresses my experience of sitting at the bedside quite well:
As each descending peak on the LCD
Took you a little farther away from me
Away from me…
The waiting room is a difficult environment because…
Cause there's no comfort in the waiting room
Just nervous pacers bracing for bad new
As a young man in my 20’s, courting my girl, I never included this sentence in my love letters to her…
But I'm thinking of what Sarah said
Love is watching someone die…
Love doesn’t always feel good. But Love is always Good.