“Looks like nothing’s gonna change
Everything still remains the same
I can’t do what ten people tell me to do
So I guess I’ll remain the same”
-Otis Redding –The Dock of the Bay
I’m sitting on my porch listening to the birds chirping. The sound of the water moving in my pool drowns out the hum of traffic not far enough away. My eyes are red and swollen. My shirt is tear-stained. The tears help clear my cloudy vision but leave a mark to remind me of this moment.
Otis Redding recorded “Dock of the bay” just two days before he died when his plane fell from the sky into an icy lake. The world was changing. He felt he was changing too but struggled with the fact he couldn’t please everyone, “So I guess I’ll remain the same.” And he tried not to change. When he died two days later, he left the memory of the man others wanted him to be and not who he wanted to be. He refused to change, and so changed happened to him.
Death can be so unexpected, and I think it’s completely different if you know it’s coming. You have time to say what needs to be said, do what you always wanted to do, and say goodbye to those you love. I’m by no means saying it is any easier to see someone you love falling further and further away from your grasp each day, and you are helpless to stop the suffering. I’m saying it’s just different.
Where my heartbreaks is when I can see both sides of the coin, and neither one is any better.
I remember having a conversation with one of my patients many years ago about loss. My husband of eight years had decided to leave me for someone else, leaving me with two small children. All of the effort I had poured into our marriage to keep the promise of “Till death do us part” was discarded before I could take another breath. This patient had just recently lost her husband to a 3 month battle with pancreatic cancer. My husband had chosen to leave. So, there was just this messy accident; none of us saw the train wreck of divorce coming; we couldn’t stop it or prepare for the impact it would have on so many lives. Her husband, against his will, had to leave. How is either one any better, and why do we have to compare? They are both equally terrible and painful; both cause suffering, loss, and change.
A very good friend I had known since I was in 7th grade left this earth a few weeks ago. He was a beautiful person, inside and out. He was funny and cool. He was smart and popular. Somehow he remained humble and was one of the kindest people I know. He loved everyone, all but one person, himself. I sat with him a couple of times after he tried to take his life. I was just there for him, trying to be enough of something that might make him want to live.
I never judged him. I was always there for him. I desperately wanted to fix him, we all did, but it wasn’t within my power to make him want to live. When he tried again, I quickly learned I couldn’t save him. It wasn’t up to me to decide for him, he had to chose life. I just continued to be there when he needed someone the most. I’m grateful to have been that person a couple of times; I’m sure I’m not the only one. I’m grateful for the others who stood beside him until the end of his precious 53-year-old life. He is dearly loved and missed by so many. Sadly as much as he was loved, nobody could love him enough to save him.
Yesterday, the life of a beautiful wife, mother, friend, and angel left earth for her heavenly home. She was 33 years old, leaving behind two children under six, two step-children, and an amazing husband. I’ve known her husband for over 20 years, and he is also one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. They had a three-year battle with breast cancer, and they loved life and each other until the last moment. Today there is an emptiness to be felt more than just in our town, but everywhere. I know you feel it.
How can you compare which is worse, which is harder on the family and friends? One who chooses or one who is taken? I remember someone telling me about death; I’m sorry, I don’t remember who it was, but they gave me a new perspective on death and God “taking” them away. I was told God isn’t a taker, not of life or breath, but He is a giver. God gives life, and He gives breath, but sometimes for reasons we don’t know or understand … He stops giving. This gave me so much peace, knowing He’s not both giver and taker; He is life, not death.
No matter how much we try to control our lives, we are not in control any more than we are in control of what others think about us or what others do. We are not in control of the days we will live unless our attempts to leave are finally granted. I’m not sure if you believe in God, a supreme being, or the power of the universe, but there is something or someone in control of whether we live or die, and it’s not us. We don’t have that kind of power. If we did, more of us would be gone, or maybe more would more be alive? I think of many I know who left here never wanting to leave, and then I think of those who desperately fought to go, many times unsuccessfully. I know a few still fighting the choice to stay or go. I still feel the final choice is not ours; we don’t have the ultimate power over life, to create or destroy. I have peace knowing there is a purpose for all of this. I know it’s for a more significant reason, and I have faith God is in control, and He knows what He is doing.
Like Otis, I worry about what everyone wants, and I want everyone to be happy. I’m the one who watches you while we sit together watching a movie, to make sure you are enjoying the film. I want to make my parents, sisters, children, and husband happy and proud of me. I wish I could fulfill the wishes, expectations, and ideals all of you have for my life, but I can’t. I wasn’t created to live within the box any person wants to place me in; I was made with a unique mold made special just for me and for my purpose. Life is too short and too precious to be wasted on worrying if you’re living the dreams everyone else has for you. Will you choose the narrow or the wide path? The wide path allows for you to move through life with others, but the narrow only has room for one person. The narrow has room for the one life you were given to live … this life. Don’t waste it.
Life is changing. People are changing. I’m changing and continually need to change to be the person I was put on this earth to be. Both beautiful souls we lost fulfilled their purpose, both leaving a legacy and a message to those who are still living … to live fully and to love. I think the rest will just work itself out. So, try not to fear change because it will come whether you want it to or not; it happens to all of us. Embrace change, life, and love. Remember those we’ve lost, cherish the memories, and don’t forget to look for the lesson in every situation.