Lessons Learned In Death

shannonMost of you are not aware that my only sister passed away last month at a very young age. This post is not to discuss the current diagnosis and treatment systems of serious illnesses. This post is not to rant about the unfairness of my loss. This post is to share with you what I learned about life and myself in the last few weeks of my sister’s life.

My sister’s name is Shannon. She was the first of three of us.

I could spend a few hundred pages writing her life story, but I think you would be better served if I found a way to share her life story in as quick and succinct way as possible.

A few months ago, it became pretty clear that Shannon was not going to come through this as we all once hoped. I should say it was becoming clear to everyone but Shannon. She kept her brave face on and waved away any tones of dissension in the ranks. She attempted to quash rumors online about her losing her fight.

For my part, as per her stated directives, I didn’t discuss it. I didn’t mention it. Most of my friends knew nothing about it. Shannon didn’t want negative thoughts out there associated with her. She wanted good energy and positive thoughts of the future. Most people are not capable of such control over their thoughts and feelings, however. Therefore, it needed to be kept quiet.

I agreed with her reasoning and so the news, when finally shared, was quite a jolt to many people. This was a risk Shannon was willing to take. Of course, one lesson I learned again through this was that you simply cannot control other people’s actions. There were others close to Shannon who could not remain silent and took to the internet to seek comfort and support and to push their own agenda.

Obviously, that is not a new lesson. We all know that one. Perhaps it was simply a reminder of lessons passed. It was a difficult reminder for me to watch my sister put energy into reasoning with someone who simply would not abide by her wishes.

Everyone has their own agenda, including me. My challenge was to try to find a way for me to fill my own needs while at the same time supporting my sister’s. Not an easy line to tightrope. I’m sure I fell off it more than once. But the lesson I hold onto is that this is something I should always be doing, not only when someone is facing death. Not only when that someone is my sister whom I’ve known my entire life. Not only when the person is somebody who was so close to me for so long.

My goal going forward is try to meet my healthy needs while at the same time supporting others in their healthy pursuits.

Shannon spent the last part of her life here in a nursing home with hospice care. She had been told again that there was nothing more. Even in the nursing home, she had her dreams. There was something else to do. There was humor.

The wonderful hospice people arranged for a choir of three to come in and sing to Shannon and anybody else who wished to listen. People came in and tried to connect with her and tell her how much she meant to them and a few favorite memories and to say good bye. While I understood their wish for her to be more physically present for their visit, I felt that she was still present and felt their love and knew their heart.

It was during these visits of friends and the choir that I started to wonder why we tend to put things off till the last minute. And I’m including myself in that. In the couple days I had with her, I told her how much I loved her more than I had ever said in words in my life.  I had convinced myself that she knew. There was no reason to say it.

We were a very close family until a few years ago, but we were never touchy feely. We did not often speak our emotions. While Shannon laid in the bed, I caressed her arms and legs and feet and wondered why I had never done so before. I caressed her as the choir sang and I cried.

And even at that time I wondered why I had never really touched her like that before, or allowed my feelings to be shown. It’s possible that if the last three years had gone differently, we may have had more chances to connect differently. Why had I waited till now to tell her I loved her? Why had we waited till now to have a choir sing for us? Why do we wait till the end before we reminisce about how great the trip was?

On the last couple days of her life and then after, I saw dozens of incredibly beautiful tributes to Shannon on her Facebook page. I received many private messages telling me how awesome she was and that these people felt so blessed to have known her. And I knew that she knew now. But I wondered how long she had known.

I think the less tied she became to her earthly body, the more spiritual she became and therefore could really be everywhere all at once. She could know our hearts. She could know the truth of the universe. But it is when we are in our human existence and form that we really so often need to know how important we are. It is in this shell that hearing what impact we have made or knowing of the lives we have affected could really give us peace in times of deepest loss or challenge.

Even after thinking these thoughts and determining that I would reach out to more people and tell them how precious they are, I find that I only did so with a few. What is stopping me? Why can I not be touchy feely without self-reproach?

Will I be sitting in their hospital room and only then tell them how incredible their lives were and how blessed I was for having known them? Worse… will they be sitting in mine?

I am a humorous and inspirational speaker and writer, but Storytelling is my love. Perspective is my passion. I am an open-networker and invite you to connect. Please feel free to join the conversation on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @Dachia. If you have had a change of perspective through a death or any other event, please share it below. We could all use help our growth process.

Photo of Shannon Arritola courtesy of Laurie Hills of Hills Creations