Coming to terms with death is a very personal act that only the dying understands. In this, the last of four in a series of articles on caregivers, we learn that being accepted as caregivers is perhaps sometimes a privilege given by the dying and not just a role we take on out of guilt, duty, responsibility or love.
It is over. He stood and looked down at the thin caricature of a once pretty, athletic woman, his wife. Listening to the subdued sounds of her family’s grief outside the room – he had asked to be alone with her for a while – he finally cried.
He knew she had given him the gift of forgiveness.
Seven Months Ago
They had been married for nearly 12 years, separated for the last three years. After nine years of marriage she suddenly left. She wanted space and freedom, she said. He had let her go. Their marriage had not been easy on both of them. Social status cut a deep chasm between them. She was a successful graduate. He was nobody but a clerk – and 15 years older than she was. Her family objected strongly to their relationship and the social circles she belonged to caused him deep discomfort, insecurity and inferiority. He had never managed to blend in; he chose not to blend in.
This social stigma was worsened by the fact that he was a house-husband, bringing their two sons up, sons who saw little of their mother as she worked long hours. It did not help that she was the sole breadwinner on top of everything else. So when she decided enough was enough, he had let her go. She never came back.
And then he heard that she was sick.
We spoke. She was suffering from aggressive ovarian cancer. He asked if he should see her. He wanted to take her home to care for her. No matter the problems with their relationships, he still loved her. He said, “She chose me, when no one else would. This is something I remain proud of.” I told him to ask her.
She had been living alone all this while. When her illness claimed her and death loomed, she had expected to die in a hospice. But when he came and asked, she agreed. She told him she wanted closure, and most of all forgiveness.
Her two sons were less enthusiastic – why return when she was dying and not when she was living. She had never been close to them. Their father had perhaps unwittingly created this gulf between them, it was too late for that.
Still, home was home. It was a sanctuary. With her family finally accepting him, they began to live a relationship unencumbered by a heavy social yoke. It was a time of sharing, understanding and redemption.
She had a hard time. The pain was excruciating and she could not hold it in any longer. At last she called to him and asked to be forgiven and thanked him for the short period of freedom he had given to her. She said, “I have never forgotten that you were my first love.”
He cared for her till she died.
In her dying and death, she had done what she could not do when she was alive. She had brought them together.
♥ There is joy in giving and receiving. But gifts come in many forms. The gift of forgiveness, to forgive and to be forgiven, is priceless because it finally brings together that which is separated.
♥ Relationships are to be treasured always, no matter how unusual or difficult they appear to be. We should not discard them like unwanted or less useful gifts. If the dying can strive to treasure relationships, the living should do no less.
Sister Geraldine Tan
Administrator, St Joseph’s Home and Hospice