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Walking the gray lines October 10, 2014

Posted by ijwoods in Blog+.
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fall leavesIt’s a day away from the third anniversary of Kris’ passing and over the last few weeks I find myself again reliving and reconsidering what took place.

One thing I discovered while being a primary care-giver was the unrelenting number of situations for which there were no easy answers, yet decisions needed to be made. Even no decision was a decision. Doctors and nurses have seen quite a bit, are well trained and are confident about what they are doing, but they don’t necessarily have all the answers. Clergy have also experienced quite a bit but many of their answers require belief. As a caregiver I was at times left in gray areas having to make decisions based on my own research (thank you Google), experience and observations.

Growing up I remember hearing quite often that we come into this world alone and we leave alone. Although I could think of instances in which this didn’t seem true (twins for instance) I could understand the essence of this saying. Over the years I have experienced that taking time to go within myself is definitely an individual endeavor (some people may want to call this “meditation”). When I go within no one gets to come along nor has any idea what’s going on for me. I have always enjoyed how this non-activity can make me feel complete despite the lack of any external stimulation. Kris and I shared this passion for going within. It wasn’t something we did as a team, it was an individual undertaking and the experience was individual as well. And though we didn’t discuss it much it was the basis for a deep bond .

I couldn’t help notice that as she was becoming increasingly ill that she spent a lot of time within herself. She never announced it. To anyone looking in, it would have looked like she was sleeping, but I could feel something familiar from her, and it wasn’t sleep. Occasionally I would interrupt her to make sure she was okay. I’d often ask if she wanted something entertaining, like for me to read her a book or play some music, but she almost never wanted anything. She was quite content to just lay there in silence for hours on end. The peace around her was so attractive at times I would quietly join her.

During these times, while lying next to her, I found myself contemplating what it would be like to pass on. What would I be feeling? What might my emotions be? One thing was clear, the feelings and experiences would happen to me alone. Even if someone was holding my hand, I would have to go through this process alone. Whenever my time comes it is going to be my own personal journey, just as this was hers. But, what Kris showed me was that it was going to be okay. It seemed as if some biological and psychological changes were happening to enable her to be accepting and ready. The news around us was no longer of any importance or interest.  I remember one morning learning that Steve Jobs died, but it was far too trivial to share with her.  She was simply being pulled gently away from me and everything else.

So what’s the proper balance for engagement? On one hand we don’t want a loved one to feel alone and uncared for, on the other hand I felt that Kris needed plenty of space so she could transition comfortably without distractions.  This transition, for lack of a better word, felt “holy”.  It commanded respect. It was a facing of reality. It was a process that no money, influence or power could overcome indefinitely.  It was something I had to bow to and feel my smallness. It was overbearing, mysterious and, in its own way wondrous. Wondrous because it was taking what we might consider frightening and was making it natural and gentle. The journey within may be done alone, but it’s not lonely.

Even though I was often by her side it was unclear if she really had any awareness of me. The body was there, but what I loved most about her was slipping away. Awareness seemed elsewhere with an occasional drift into our world to flash an acknowledgement with an angelic smile. She was going, but was I ready to let her go?



It’s only in retrospect that I wonder about this. At the time it was very clear that I had to give her room to be alone and develop legs to walk into a new world. Where is the balance? I’ll never really know and it’s impossible to ask anyone who’s made the transition. But as I walked that fine line it felt right to give her plenty of time alone so she could build momentum in the right direction. This seemed like the most helpful and respectful approach I could take. I believe from observing Kris that this aided in her own preparations for the final transition while providing enough love and support so she felt physically and emotionally safe to do what she needed.

This particular consideration probably doesn’t come up in the majority of caregiving situations. For me it did. But this was just one of many challenges that appeared each day and required my involvement. What makes these decisions so hard is that we don’t want to cause our loved one to suffer any more than they might already be. Yet while caregiving for someone dying we are often faced with things that are not exactly black and white.


1. Barbara salage - October 10, 2014

Beautiful, Ira . Thinking of you as the anniversary draws near

ijwoods - October 11, 2014

Thanks Barbara, it’s good to hear from you.

2. Michael Guerin - October 10, 2014

Beautifully expressed. Would that everyone engaged in such transitioning could be accompanied by such a sensitive and aware caregiver. Thank you for this inspiring sharing.

ijwoods - October 11, 2014

Thanks for your message Michael. What continues to amaze me is how sensitized we can become in a care giving situation like that. It felt as if something greater were taking over at times. We have much to learn and consider. There’s the birth part of our equation, and I’ve watched as parents increasingly work hard to make the child’s entry into our world a warm, loving and welcoming one. The last part of our equation is departing and it seems we need a lot more consideration around that process.

3. Leslye Deitch - October 10, 2014

Ira, this was one of the most thoughtful and introspective musings I have ever read on the subject of love, respect and caregiving. It seems to me that you accomplished a beautiful balance for Kris as she transitioned. I think what’s so wonderful is you both were on the same page with your understanding of the importance of going within. I have lost many friends now who didn’t have that awareness and preparation and the process seems a little bit different. I remember with my Mother, there was such a great deal of fear on her part and a not wanting to let go. She was like that. She always wanted to know “how the story was going to end” for all of us. So her passing was difficult. It’s only now that I understand the value of what we’ve been shown that I realize what a blessing it is. It’s about life, but it’s so much more. It sounds like you and Kris shared something so dear, in life and at the end. I’m so impressed with how deep your awareness of her needs went. I only wish for all of us to be tended to with such kindness, wisdom, care and love..

4. bethhavey - October 13, 2014

As usual, Ira, your ability to probe deeply and understand what the pathway from life to death is all about appears in this piece. Again how fortunate Kris was to have you there beside her. Letting go must be a slow process, especially when your dear one is so close and you don’t want to leave them. But you allowed Kris the freedom she needed. Hospice nurses time and again relate that clients whose family just refuse to let go–often ask someone to take them shopping or to visit a friend. While they are gone, the person dies. So amazing, Beth

ijwoods - November 10, 2014

Hi Beth, it’s good to hear from you. I have heard the same thing as you mentioned and it happened with a dear friend of mine. He waited until his partner went for a walk before he let go. It’s all so fascinating.

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