I remember every harsh word I said to her in those years. And though reason tells me that they came simply from strain and were inevitable, I have tried to take them back a hundred times, to ask forgiveness. But I am not forgiven. Tbe survivor is the sinner and cannot forgive himself, and the only person who could forgive is gone.
Robert Anderson, After
Whenever someone dies, the people left behind often feel responsible, in some way, for their death. Remarks that begin with "If only I had . . "or "I should have . . .." testify to that guilt. Sometimes the guilt can be crippling. If the person who is dying forgives their loved ones for their real and imagined sins, the subsequent adjustment to the loss can be made immeasurably easier.
Some kind of guilt is virtually guaranteed because the survivor almost always resents the person he loves for leaving (deserting) him. As a child is angry when his mother "goes away," so does an adult feel about the loss of someone close, such as a spouse or parent or child. In the middle of this anger at being deserted is the thought that he has no right to be angry, because the person he is angry with is suffering more than he is and, besides, is not responsible for what is happening. If the anger is verbalized and the survivor is absolved of guilt for his feelings, it goes a long way toward the survivor's eventual recovery. It helps both the survivor and the dying person if they are aware of the mixed feelings that invariably exist. Anger is as natural as love, and is always present in any crisis. If it is dealt with openly and intelligently, it can be dissipated where it will do no harm. Anger is like gunpowder: in the open it burns; when tightly enclosed, it explodes, with unpredictable results.
For the dying person, the present time is all that he has, but the person who will live on has a future to be concerned with. He may have to take care of small children, comfort others, and make all kinds of necessary arrangements. While the present is equally important to him, he must also be concerned about the future. The resolution (closure) of one's affairs with the dying person is important, and can minimize guilt, which will add to the inevitable pain. Cancer is a disease which allows this resolution. In contrast, sudden death often leaves people without an opportunity to say good-by properly. It leaves people feeling unfinished. It is sometimes an emotional disaster for the survivor if someone dies suddenly during, or after, what would ordinarily be a trivial quarrel.
Before my brother died; he wrote the following:
It is customary, I guess, in a time like this to leave some words behind.
First, I want to put the responsibility of dying (it's hard to write that word) on no one. I want no one to feel he could have done something --not relatives, friends, doctors. I don't even put the blame on (for those who may believe in Him) God.
I can't say I like the situation. I have regrets leaving before some dreams come true. I did want to see Haley's Comet and the 21st Century.
To all my friends I say thanks for the pinochle and company. I'm sorry I had to beat you so often.
To Ira and Jean, thanks I can't express. I've known you both a very short time, but you have added something to my life that made it more complete. I wish I could write in detail, but I never could go on-and-on on a subject. I know you have a wonderful life ahead. Wish I were there.
(I should be careful in writing all this stuff because a misplaced word could make a difference.)
I have no last requests. I have thought of giving my body to some school, but I don't know yet.
It's so damn hard to write of these things.
I want no big headstone. Maybe plant a tree instead. Maybe I'll think of a brilliant epitaph.
Mom and Dad, I love you both very much and don't want you to feel that any of this is in any way your fault. Nothing you could have done would have made any difference.
My personal property has been taken care of. My retirement fund with the university goes to Mom and Dad.
I'll edit this tomorrow and brush up the Iousy sentence structure and sloppy handwriting, made sloppier because I am lying down.
Tomorrow never came for Eli.
His letter made things easier for all of us.
I don't know what it is like to die. That is something that can be experienced only once; there are no experts. I do know what it feels like to lose someone I love. I have experienced that too many times. The pain lasts for a long time.
I would welcome knowing in advance when I am about to die, because I would like to do for those who survive me what those who loved me and died did for me.