What will you bring?

Over the last few months, I probably spent too much time at nursing homes. I finally understood why my grandmother had always been so reluctant to go there, as even the best of these places are nothing but fading photocopies of what any comfortable and comforting home on Earth could possibly look like.

It made me wonder: When it comes to the end, what will you bring? What will you take along? What will you care about?

  • You won’t bring your car. When you’ve reached the point I’m talking about, you won’t even be able to rise from your bed anymore. You certainly won’t be able to drive.
  • You won’t take along any clothes. You won’t be needing them anymore, as all you’ll be wearing will be a nightie.
  • You won’t care about money or fame or sex at that point.

So what else?

  • You won’t bring your mansion, your tidy desktop, your minimalist living room, your designer sofa. Better forget about all this right away.
  • You won’t take along any handguns, no matter what the Second Amendment says.1
  • You won’t care anymore about motivational babble, freedom businesses, or further self-improvement exercises.

[¶]

Beware, I’m not talking about Death here. Death is easy. Death is the point of relief. I’m talking about the last few minutes, hours, days and weeks, or – if you’re way out of luck – even the months and years that pass before you die: The time in which you’re still technically alive, but not in a way that allows you to live as you learned how to live and as you – maybe – got used to.

I’m talking about the time when you’re tied to your bed. When you’re hardly even able to go to the bathroom. When talking is hard, staying awake is hard, eating is hard, drinking is hard, because your organs slowly go into sleep mode, but you’re just not able to die. Yet.

If things go awry, your brain will shut down at some point, too. You won’t have any freedom of thought anymore. At that point, you won’t even be able to bring any memories. If you’re unlucky, you won’t remember a thing from your life, no matter how awesome it was.

[¶]

When you’re there, what will you bring?

To be sure, I don’t wish you actually ever get to that place. By all means, please be immortal. Please trick the Grim Reaper. Or, if you must, die in a scuba diving accident on the Bahamas when you’re 103 years old.

But who could possibly know before the hour strikes?

[¶]

So, once more: What will you bring?

Here’s something you can bring: A loved one by your side, comforting the dying. Comforting the dying person that will be you.

It’s just not up to you to decide whether that loved one will be willing to be there.

And here’s my question for you. It’s a weird question, maybe. But whatever it is that you’re doing and however it is that you’re feeling at this moment, why not think about it for a second: What are you doing to make the person who might be comforting you comfortable to be with you?

No matter who that person it is. No matter if it is one single person or a group of a thousand. No matter whether you even have any idea who that person could be or whether you don’t.2

Are you giving anybody a reason to be there?

[¶]

This past Monday, I lost my last grandmother. She was an amazing and difficult and interesting and strong and tough and lovely person. I’m incredibly sad to see her go, but happy to say that she certainly lived a life worth living. This post is dedicated to her.

  1. Even if you bring one, it won’t serve you at all, unless you wish to take the emergency exit from the remains of the life that you used to know. []
  2. Most of us don’t, if we’re totally honest. []

Comments 13

  1. Alison Clayton-Smith January 10, 2013

    What a lovely and thought-provoking post. I’ve just finished talking to my mum who lost one friend the other week to cancer and another friend has just been diagnosed. She was feeling guilty about not being able to visit the latter and not having written. She said she wanted to write but didn’t know what to say. I suggested she write that. I hope she feels able to do so.

    • Fabian January 11, 2013

      Alison, I suppose this lack of words is something many of us would experience in a situation like that. I totally agree with what you say: That it’s perfectly fine to be open about it and admit it that it’s hard to find something worthwhile to say. This alone will make a huge difference, and might make further communication a lot easier, too.

      Thanks for sharing, and all the best for your mum (and especially her friend).

  2. Paul Forrester January 11, 2013

    Grandmothers seem to possess an indestructible quality, even after they are gone. That’s how it seems to me, at least, though when I lost mine a couple of years ago I’m not sure I could have expressed that (or any other) feeling as eloquently as you have here. Thank you for posing such thoughtful and interesting questions.

    • Fabian January 11, 2013

      Thank you Paul. Your expression of an “indestructable quality” is wonderful and can be filled with so many meanings. The more I think about it, the more aptly it seems to fit.

  3. Milo January 11, 2013

    A moving post Fabian. I’ve lost my grandparents too, on both sides, so I can relate to the questions and ideas you raise.

    Most of us don’t really want to consider these things, but all of us will be faced with them at some point. I like Paul’s phrase too!

  4. cristina January 12, 2013

    No leo tu articulo porque se me hace dificil, pero la foto me gusta mucho y seguro escribes cosas muy buenas. Cuidate.

    • Fabian January 23, 2013

      Jaja, tienes que interntar con el Google Translate, a ver si hace sentido! ;)

  5. Clara January 12, 2013

    Hej Fabian, i am so sorry for your loss. Your grandmother sounds like an amazing woman. I like this post and the questions it raises. “these places are nothing but fading photocopies of what any comfortable and comforting home on Earth could possibly look like.” – that sounds chilling. My grandfather died a few years ago. He was a kind generous man, but in old age, he just got so much kinder. If he didn’t reckognize us, he surely didn’t shoo us away, he said “What lovely young people, are you here for me? how lucky for me. tell me your names.” and when he nodded off in the middle of me showing him my sketchbook, he woke and then, finding a sketchbook on his lap, gave it to me as a gift, for he did no longer draw. <3
    it's how i want to grow old. I miss him, but i also know he wanted to go.
    I sometimes joke with my friends that we'll live together in a nursing home and try out all the drugs that we now never would touch. But really, i just want to be with them when i am old. :)

    • Fabian January 23, 2013

      Hey Clara, thanks so much for chiming in! They story of your grandmfather is beautiful and reminds me a bit of my last days with my grandmother, too. Even though she was still quite clear of what was happening around her, but also sleeping a lot.
      As for your idea of spending the old days in a nursing home with friends, I totally love it! The big question is if we’ll manage to stay as open and easy-going as we might be today when we’re old? I sure hope so!

  6. Michael Nobbs January 17, 2013

    Hello Fabian, I hope you’re okay. Your post is lovely, and a very fine tribute to your grandmother.

    A few years ago I went with my mother to the local hospital so she could be with her brother when he died (they had both ended up living here in Wales, quite independently of each other and after many years of estrangement). Two years later my mother died in the same hospital room. I was there with her.

    I hope someone who loves me will be with me when it’s my turn.

    • Fabian January 23, 2013

      Thanks Michael! I appreciate your comment and story. There were a bit too many things going on in recent weeks (the month supposed to be of reflection and planning!), but I’m slowly getting back into normal life now, and am enjoying very much my warm place of residence here in the Caribbean!

  7. Jose Lara January 21, 2013

    Interesante reflexión, mas en estos tiempos, donde parecemos vivir sin darnos cuenta de lo importante y corta que es la vida. Entiendo el planteamiento y, creo, que si hemos sabido tomar el tiempo para mirar en retrospectiva nuestra vida, nos preguntaremos ¿cual es la razón de esta vida? no queda mas que remitirme al texto “Ilusiones” de Richard Bach: “ser felices”; y, mientras, nos dedicamos a eso, también a hacer felices a quienes nos rodean. No hay una vida que valga mas la pena, que aquella en la cual logramos dejar huellas en el vivir de los demás.

    PD: Mi Sentido Pésame, por lo de tu abuela.

    • Fabian January 23, 2013

      Jose, estoy de acuerdo contigo. Ojalá que todos dejemos huellas positivas en las personas que encontramos en la vida. Gracias por tu comentario! :)

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