You are most powerful when you are most silent.”
— Alison McGhee, author
Brian was now mostly quiet. He’d been a man in charge, working and amassing a fortune in the corporate world until his terminal cancer marched forward without restraint. Life had dealt an unexpected blow, and his wife described how hard he fought to remain on top of his game. Yet he slowly lost: first the job, then his energy… ultimately his war on cancer. Still, he spent what little strength he had fretting about things needing attention in his life (projects only he seemed to know about, worries only he noticed).
What amazed us all was his ability to spend the last of his strength exerting control over his environment. But not really a surprise, hearing how his entire life he’d organized every day’s experience. It had seemed that he was in control, until now…his body demanding attention, his strength waning, his voice diminishing; still the look in his eyes when we said what needed to happen next.
His wife had reached the point when she was unable to care for him in the recliner, his favorite place these past few months. So much had been lost, and she wanted to give him this: to die in his chair. But this, too, was no longer in his control. Though he was not talking to us anymore, there was the reproachful glance as we settled him in the hospital bed. He couldn’t say, yet we nodded in silent communion…this was certainly the hardest thing he’d ever done in his life, “coming to the end of his tether”.
How many times as a hospice nurse, aware of how little control any of us actually have, I’ve written and made well-meant comments on “letting go” in life! Yet, when it comes down to the finale, how very harsh the reality: of letting go of all that we know; letting go of all that we thought we managed well; letting go of what we really wanted; letting go ultimately of all that we hold dear and becoming lost in vulnerability.
Brian was now walking in death’s valley with the daily experience of losing. Unable to say what he wanted done, no longer in charge of any of his life, he was settling into the quiet of life’s final breath with a powerful hush…in the end, silently going into that good night…having let go of all of it…with knowledge that the rest of us only wonder about.