A woman I know from work passed away recently. She was central to our office, and always greeted me with a smile and a kind word. While I did not know her well, her death struck many of my colleagues hard. And it came as a complete surprise – but the hardest part was hearing that she died alone with no friends or family around.
Like many Westerners, I do not know how to handle death well. My primary model for how to deal with difficult situations, my mom, is not particularly good at this either. She holds her grief as a personal travesty that only she can understand. Her response goes something like this (following her mother’s death):
Riding in the back seat of the car, sniffling and sighing, looking out the window. ‘Mom, are you ok?’ More sighing, slight turn away to the window ‘yes. I’m fine’. ‘Ok, just checking – well, what do you want for dinner?’ ‘Oh, I don’t care, I can’t deal with that now’. ‘Ok, well, that was why I wanted to check if you were ok?’ More sighing, sniffling….‘Oh, forget it, you wouldn’t understand’. [true story]
Uh… you’re right. I don’t.
(and this is not to give my mom a hard time, she was doing the best she could – and I do not doubt or want to make light of the fact that loosing your mother, especially after an incredibly horrible long slow death, would be devastating and difficult to deal with…. but still….)
Slowly more news came out about this woman’s death – but it was difficult to get because there was no next of kin, no family, no friends listed to deal with the hospital. She apparently had no one to be there for her. The story we eventually heard was that she went to the hospital, complaining of shortness of breath and 48 hours she was pronounced dead. During that time she was alone. During those 48 hours, if she was conscious during that time – it is painful to think that she was alone – with no ine to witness her last hours in this life.
My worse nightmare. My biggest fear.
And before you go all Buddhist on me – yes, I know we all die alone.
When I first moved to NY, I would go weekends without talking to anyone. I didn’t know anyway, I didn’t have plans with anyone. And even my work., because I spent time in different places every day – different day, different place – no one would actually notice for a few days if I didn’t show up. They might think it rude on Monday that I didn’t show up without word, and Tuesday, the different school would think the same – but there would not be a connection that I missed both Monday and Tuesday. It might be a few days before anyone noticed I was gone.
In those first few months, that awareness would hit me like a Mack truck, sucking the air out of my lungs, digging deep into my gut.
How I craved to be simply witnessed. To have someone know about my days, to have someone care about my whereabouts and to see me. Someone to notice if I did not go to work on Monday.
I crave intimacy. I crave hot, passionate sex. I crave celebrating my body (good lord universe – I exercise every day for my own wellness, but let’s show this shit off!). I crave celebrating my man’s body, too. I crave shared laughter and dinners cooked at home and dancing together late into the night.
But most of all – I crave being witnessed. I crave having someone care about knowing where I am. Someone to see me and hear me and care about me.