A Story of Loving, A Story of Dying

by Sue Muirhead

Last January, my husband and I moved in with my dear friend Laurie, her husband and grown son.  We had all gathered in her home because Laurie had decided, after long deliberation and much discussion, that this was her time to die.  She had asked us to support her as she had made the decision to stop eating and drinking.  She had suffered with MS for many years and had come to a point where she could no longer look after herself, in her body her suffering had become unbearable, and she was very clear she wanted to die.  All of us made the commitment that we would honor her decision and we would support her.  This was one of the most challenging and loving decisions of my life.

I had known Laurie for over 34 years.  We were running partners in our twenties and thirties – running up hill and down, through wild spring winds and puddles, the dry heat of summer, the ornate colors and musty smells of autumn and the chilling temperatures and slippery roads of winter.  We bonded closely on our runs together and became fast friends.  She introduced me to my second husband, her cousin, and we spent much time together over the years raising our families and sharing the many ups and downs of our lives.

The last three weeks of her life I lived with her, supported her, loved her and listened to the songs of her heart and soul.  Here are some of the words she encouraged me to share once she had died:

When you (Sue) and I have minutes alone we try to do something important – documenting how I am feeling so perhaps I could help someone else.  I feel so intimate and gratified by this.  What I think I am going to focus my efforts on is what it feels like to die a bit day by day.  What that will include is my experiences in being in my home with my best friends and my husband and child and baby dog and what happens here.  I would like you to write about what I have witnessed and I would like to describe how I feel – if someone ever thought that they would do this they would have one person’s really honest account about how it feels. 

I feel that I am very near to being here for the last time and I am ready to express what is really there at the end of it all.  The most predominant feeling is profound love.  I have already expressed to my wide body of close and dear friends and family, mother, sister, brother how much they mean to me as individuals and how much I have relished the moments with them and have had the opportunity to express my gratitude for their support.  It means a great deal for me to know that these people will be there for my son and my husband.  This means everything to me.

What I have witnessed at first hand is a powerful bond of love that transcends friendship.  It is about humanity really expressing pure love of humanity in their willingness to support not only the ailing one –me, but one another in their very difficult task.  They are drug along with me through the various stages of dying with fore knowledge yet have found a way to be light hearted and full of love and laughter that is genuine and at the same time no less is the depth of concern and action from them that has been called upon.  I never knew that kind of loving without condition, I never knew it was there with my son and my husband.  I never experienced it outside of that.  To feel that love of your child holding you and pressing himself against you to find a shared comfort.  We slept together and it was a comforting, tender thing I could do with my son who is so precious and who I would so happily lay down my life for.  And there is my husband who I have given my whole self entirely too – I have tried, I have loved him with everything and all that I am.  I have tried to be everything and all that I could be to him.  And yet I have never felt so loved, so tenderly and so deeply and by another human being as I have been with him when he bathes me and cares for me so lovingly.  This makes my heart ache with happiness.  It is only love that I have now and I am so grateful for all the love I do have. 

I want to talk about death and dying.  Up until the last two days I did not feel as if I was going to die.  Yesterday I started to notice the looks on your faces, and someone feeling for my pulses, losing my consciousness, losing my ability to move, hear things – aware of my closeness to death.  I have this great need to be outside, very powerful urge – it is overwhelming. When I get outside and I just smell water, wind, dampness and the earth, right now especially when it is warmer, I smell the dark, dirty, damp earth and it pulls me back into that very meaningful meditative state of no longer having desire.  That is where I have readiness and I have peace…

 Being outside – feels like getting away from everything that is human –this makes me feel excited.  I Feel like the wind is running through my body – I feel overwhelmingly that I need to be there, outside. Each time I just want to be there.  This is a Powerful, powerful thing…

When my mind is struggling with things, the physical starvation, dehydration – things are not as clear.  However, one thing that is so clear to me is how easy it is to love another human being completely – so simple, unencompassing and profound….

I always thought I knew what love was – I never before have ever felt so loved as in the last few days and I never knew I could love that much or anyone so deeply. 

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