Learn to Love It All
Celebrating a birthday in a hospice is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
Last year on November 3rd, I traveled from New York City to Atlanta to celebrate my father's birthday. This time, though, we ate our cake in a hospice - a cozy parking lot for nearly departed.
Because life imitates art, I ended up telling my father on his last birthday that I was pregnant with his first grandson. Couldn't feel the baby kicking yet, but he was in there growing just slightly slower than the speed at which my dad was dying.
It was kind of nice to see the hospice before the big event got underway. No one really wants to have to show up somewhere random and unfamiliar to witness their loved one's death (or to die themselves, for that matter!)
I mentally rehearsed making the same journey again in a few weeks or months, entering the hospice with an even bigger lump in my throat.
Then, the hospice closed. The hospice closed.
They just... closed it.
"After 22 amazing years."
The only tiny shard of predictability in this whole slow-motion trauma slipped right through my fingers.
Right through my fingers, and right down the drain.
So I realized, once and for all, that you can't count on anything.
Not a single thing.
Not even that.
4 months later, he died somewhere else.
The details of how my father chose to approach his death are not mine to share widely. So, let's just say I want to do it differently than he did.
While I inherited my father's horrendous seasonal allergies and the particular curve of kneecaps, I did not inherit his aversion towards extended personal conversation (or his stiff upper lip).
For 18 months now, I've thought about death constantly. It's an odd way to live, but I almost don't even want it to end. Awakening to death is a transformative experience. There's no stuffing these maggots back in their can.
In my body, my life stagnates in a hazy extended present. I change diapers, throw together meals, kiss boo boos. I get up at night, nurse the baby, and wander back to sleep in a fugue. It's pretty much fine.
But in my mind, I am shattered. I am shattered, and yet all the pieces hurtle forward at the speed of light. I know where I came from, but I don't know where I'm going.
These days feel endlessly long. Yet so little of them is available, so little headspace left over for my own. It is a mother's curse and a mother's blessing: to live so incredibly much on some dimensions that the others all get squeezed.
Here in the margins of my own life, I bear the burden of the knowledge of mortality. When it comes, it falls on you like a ton of bricks. But if you keep putting one foot in front of the other, you can materialize a bit of strength.
I am permanently staggered by the recalcitrant thought that my father suffered a seizure literally on the way to the grocery store and never went home again. I never would have wished for things to happen in such a way. But that's neither here nor there, really. Our wishes make no direct causal contact with reality.
I don't really know how to express what I've learned. These dawnings-on are well under way. But I'll try to leave you with one thing, one thing you will also learn your own hard way.
It's not enough to tolerate adversity. It's not enough to withstand it.
In every broken thing, every disordered state of affairs, in every annoyance and failure and mess of your own or someone else's (or no one's) making - you have to find something to love.
I can love learning something true. I can love learning to see something how it really is. I can love learning to help others with their existential tangles, if only in the tiniest way.
The only way out is through, but a full heart is lighter than an empty one.
Pamela J. Hobart - Philosophical Life Coaching Newsletter
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