A man lay dying in his living room.
His spouse of 30 years was the other sole occupant of an upstairs apartment. She was exhausted and I asked about sharing the care giving with the young adult children that lived in the area, or friends who continually offered to help.
Jan explained to me that it was hard to ask someone into this scenario, and she waved a hand across the room; including the messiness of a leftover holiday season, the disarray of laundry piled in the corner, and the emaciated, unresponsive (but for an occasional gasp or groan) man who lay in the middle of the room, with the pervading smell of death in the air.
I asked if there were relationships left in his life that he was hanging on for, some goodbye not yet spoken or some other “unfinished business”. Jan began to tell me their family’s story. They had married young, and had children in the first twelve years that remembered the “good years”. Those years were filled with hard times and hard work but also togetherness and shared goals and treasured times. That was before the drinking.
She explained that the next 17 years were a spiral into alcoholism. She had been the one who had the steady job and held things together when he lost one after another battle during the rollercoaster ride of clean and sober, then back into the clutches of the bottle. There was always the desire to fix the broken things in his life, but Jan explained that her husband never had the ability to stay on the path….. until he heard his diagnosis and was told he had months to live, if he was lucky.
“Strange, sometimes, what it takes in life for a wake-up call,” Jan remarked.
He began to earnestly change. Over the next 8 months, he listened to what his family needed to say to him, and they in turn knew their remaining time together was too short to spend with excessive effort in recriminations or regrets. They planned some trips together. They gathered for family meals. The sons heard their dad’s voice say “ I’m sorry, I love you” and it soothed hurts from years before. Jan said they spent the time given to them each day making new memories, and not trying to sort through too much of the past. And she said a most remarkable thing. “His dying has taught more than you can imagine to all of us. We wouldn’t trade this experience for anything. So, yes, I will be glad when this is over. But I am so thankful. We all learned to live in the now, and not waste any more time. ”
His goal had been to live through Christmas. That goal accomplished, some of his last spoken words were, “I want to see the new year”.
New Year’s Day arrived, and he was imminently dying. On this day of making resolutions and setting goals, somehow, it seemed to me, his life these past 8 months had actually been his new year’s resolution. Everyone who touched it was reminded to make the time count, forgive the past, and look forward to these moments shared together now.
People usually fail when they are on the verge of success.
So give as much care to the end as to the beginning;
Then there will be no failure.