April 2013: Learning to Celebrate Life in the Face of Death

I feel obligated to talk about a woman that had changed my life forever in April 2013. It brings me to tears in talking about my dear friend, Esther. Esther, a sixty-years old woman with grown-children, a pocketful of memories and a smile that would make you jealous was dying to cancer. She was a warrior, a fighter, and my friend.

However, Esther was leaving me on a daily-basis. Not only was she leaving me, but I saw the fragility of life. I would usually go to school, get off work, head home to fix Esther something and drive to the hospice-center. I didn’t care for one of her nurses, but I wasn’t going for that nurse. I was going to see Esther. So, I would go and sometimes just sit listening to her. It became apparent a little later that Esther was losing all sense of time, hallucinated about past memories and would frequently complain about being in pain. I had a habit of nodding my head to Esther’s persistence that she was at home and that I needed to go to the kitchen to get some food. Or she would tell me about her neighbor, Johnny, and “his empire” next door to her home. Sometimes, she would tell me to watch out for the cat in the room. I would tell her early-on in these hallucinations that the people, animals, and places that she was seeing weren’t real. However, I stopped. I would just start nodding my head and going along with the hallucinations. It was painful to see how a sickness could strip away a person’s faculties. I would frequently leave the hospital with tears in my eyes and a heart heavy with thoughts.

Those nights in visiting her caused me to think about life a lot more. It allowed me to see how we are all full of life, imagination, hope, and memories. Nonetheless, we are all moments away from death. So, we have to celebrate the life in all of us. I made the mistake of seeing death instead of life in Esther. I had stopped going because I was afraid of facing death. I was afraid of coming from work one night and being told that Esther was gone. I didn’t want to face an empty bed without Esther. I wasn’t prepared for it. I wasn’t equipped to handle such news. I knew that death was near, but I didn’t want death to snatch away a friend I had only known for a little time. However, I would’ve continued in my visits because I knew there was life in Esther. Life should be celebrated. I know now that every second of our present is good enough to be celebrated.

In a way, I believe this quote explains how it feels to think about my dear, Esther:
“When someone you love dies, and you’re not expecting it, you don’t lose her all at once; you lose her in pieces over a long time—the way the mail stops coming, and her scent fades from the pillows and even from the clothes in her closet and drawers. Gradually, you accumulate the parts of her that are gone. Just when the day comes—when there’s a particular missing part that overwhelms you with the feeling that she’s gone, forever—there comes another day, and another specifically missing part.”
― John Irving, A Prayer for Owen Meany

The ironic part of all of it, I never kept going to know if Esther is still alive. I didn’t know how to stay. I didn’t know how to deal with this pain. I had to run. I had to flee. I couldn’t handle it, so I raced from Esther. Now, I know I owe her the life in her. I’m going to honor the life in the hallucinations she had. I’m going to honor the memories she told me about in those nightly visits. I’m going to honor the days we were together. She is my friend. She never left. Her life is a part of mine’s as I am a part of her’s. I will remember her even if she never remembers my name or my face. I will keep her tucked away in my heart.

In memory, in love, in life of Esther


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