by Sara Notenboom
About a month ago, as I was sitting with my grandmother watching my grandfather, her husband of 57 years, take his last breaths in hospice care, she asked me why anyone would ever want to do this work – caring for people in their last days of life – as she found it utterly depressing and void of hope. My answer to her was quickly and easily given: “Because it’s about love.” It’s about free-flowing, unbounded gratitude, raw vulnerability and pure courage.
Hanging in the balance between present reality and future uncertainty, between “have” and “have lost” unites us. It breaks the walls of fear which often surround us and allows us to shed our protective masks. We begin to fearlessly stand in what’s real, unapologetically, for time adopts a new sense of significance when we recognize that it truly is finite. All things felt, but never said, rise to the surface and are expressed with a sense of urgency. Hugs are given. Connection is fostered and love shines brightly.
When I talk to people about my experience of watching my grandfather’s health rapidly decline over a period of about six months, I don’t deny that it is one of the hardest things I have experienced. It was a time wrought with fear of what was to come. I spent many nights worrying about what he was feeling, and how I was to continue living my life without him. At the same time though, those six months were abundantly powerful, because alongside the fears and sleepless nights was a new sense of meaning. Each interaction we shared, we both recognized, was a gift. We were able to have the conversations that we would not have had otherwise, without any sense of reservation. Vulnerability was brought to the table in a very real way.
Those six months were about living in the space of fearless authenticity which arose from us both feeling that we were given the permission to engage in those conversations. But here’s the thing: The idea that we need to be given permission to be authentic, and courageously vulnerable with those for whom we care the most is false. The all-important and life-altering conversations which only seem to happen when time is of the essence, need to start happening without an underlying reason, and without feeling as though we need to be given permission. They need to start happening simply because the people who fill our lives are to be cherished. We need to start letting life unite us, for it is far more fragile than we often care to admit.
So go ahead and be generous with your words of love and gratitude. Tell people what they mean to you and how they have had an impact on your life. Say, “I love you” just because you can.
Sara holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and English Literature, and is currently completing her Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology. She has a particular interest in the area of grief and bereavement, and is an experienced bereavement support facilitator. Sara regards her work as her calling, and is passionate about empowering people to embrace their lives fearlessly.