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Last Words

By Ancelin Wolfe

I have been thinking about the loneliness of Covid—each of us confined in our own lives with our individual configurations, cast of characters, and responsibilities. Each of us alone with our own fear.

I am feeling especially the terrible isolation of those who actually get Covid and then must make their way through it, following whatever path the disease may take. And I am feeling the helplessness of those who love them.

Any illness isolates us not only from those around us, but also from our healthy selves. We are estranged from our selves. Covid makes this estrangement worse.

Those who are hospitalized suffer the most from the isolation, in spite of all that doctors and nurses can do. When their family cannot visit, the isolation desolates on both fronts. Too often there is no chance for a last meeting, for last words.

I learned about doing without last words when I was nineteen, when my mother was killed in a car accident. She “lingered” in a coma for a week, but never regained consciousness. Some years later my father died without any warning from a cerebral hemorrhage. Three days passed before his body was discovered, and it was a warm September. The funeral director and my brother both advised that “I did not want to see him” so I did not. I have no final image of him at all. Sometimes it seems to me as if he never died.

I am left without any final words—words of love, gratitude, or farewell—shared with either of my parents—a kind of ultimate loneliness. I ache to hear and to say all that remains unsaid, even as I am pretty sure I know what most of those words would be.

I learned early that death and loss can and will claim us all. That the loving and the sharing and the appreciating have to be done now, in the now, the present moment. It is all we ever truly have.

Not In A Silver Casket Cool With Pearls (excerpt)

Love in the open hand, no thing but that, Ungemmed, unhidden, wishing not to hurt, As one should bring you cowslips in a hat Swung from the hand, or apples in her skirt, I bring you, calling out as children do: "Look what I have!—And these are all for you."

Participants’ Reflections:

  • I just wanted to thank you for your writing and sharing. I really appreciate it.

  • I was deeply moved by what you wrote and it really connected with my life. I had an early loss of my mother when I was 13. Throughout my life I have worked through that grief and loss in so many ways. Because of my age at that time, there was so much left unsaid. Your message is so powerful. Basically, our lives are fragile and you just never know what might happen. Living in the present with gratitude and desire to connect with what’s important to us with the people that are important to us, and to do what is important to us is really such a message that we don’t get. We seek it out, I think, in this culture. So, thank you very much.

  • I think there is no harm in saying the things we feel now when we feel them. We don’t have to save them for some special time. It is a gift, a gift to receive and to give.

  • I thank you for inviting me to feel the current losses at a new level. I’ve been protected in my phase of life in preferment and my status of life of good nutrition and supplements and so forth. I’ve protected myself from the news on some level since 911 because I felt it carried so much fear, and that wasn’t something I wanted to tune into on a daily basis. I lowered my protective isolation viewpoint and entered into just how stunning and painful these episodes are for people. Thank you lastly for the invitation to bring all we are right now to those we love.

  • Having the benefit of speaking to the other side, I know that we can say the words now, we can write the words now, we can feel the words now and they are received. It doesn’t give us the response back that we, as humans, are used to hearing through our human ears, but the whole process is healing to us and to our loved one. It’s very easy to feel heartache hearing stories like this and an impulse might be to jump in to fix. I’ve learned through my process of growth to take responsibility for my own heartache and let others feel what they feel. It’s all a learning curve. It’s a process. It’s part of life, and I believe we will see our loved ones again when we leave our human bodies, that there is no final goodbye, although, the human goodbye is stark and painful.

  • This has been illuminating. I plunged right in to the death of my parents and the people who I loved. When I tend to do when I hurt is figure out how to do better. This sounds weird, but I practice death. At some point I decided to step into it. This practice soothes my spirit. I speak up at funerals by telling stories. I did hospice work and volunteer work for the police department, and then I’ve done bereavement work. I’m still learning. Stepping into the idea of my death helps me feel better and do better.

  • In the Hindu religion, they have fire ceremonies for that very idea of facing our mortality. Firewalking is similar to that because one has to turn themselves in trust over to the unknown while facing something that can annihilate them. It’s an incredible experience. It is one that has to be prepared for and processed both before, during and after, and so I completely agree. It does widen us so that we can withstand the pain of what life has to offer.

  • I talk about my own death with my children and my grandchildren. They don’t want to hear it. It’s the joy of my legacy. I’ve been able to heal things in my family, the ancestral pain that comes forward that I’ve been able to bring to life and move forward. So that’s a legacy that we can give. I also know the people who I loved and loved me have already forgiven me for every stupid thing I have done in my life.

  • Thank you. That was quite a journey and story. A lot to think about. I had my mother up til she was 102, and we talked about death a lot. I was the only one in my family who was willing to talk about it because it was a reality. She knew it was a reality and she didn’t shy away from it. We would talk about what she wanted and we would wind up laughing about everything and that was the best part, to be able to accept it and not be upset about it. We did get to say everything we wanted to say but there is always more. So even if you get to say everything, there is always more to say. It’s a journey and some journeys are short and some journeys are long. As long as we are connecting through the heart during the journey, then we can learn something from it and keep giving in the process.

  • I think that Covid gives us a nudge to say those things. As we look at our own aging and the aging of people we love, we have those conversations and they can be funny and painful. It’s like drilling down or finding the way down as water does to that level of honesty. Isn’t that the ultimate gift to a loved one is authenticity? It’s an incredible gift.

  • That was a beautiful reading. It made me think of when I lost my husband. He was in the hospital for quite a long time. We thought he was going to get better until they couldn’t do anything more. We talked and we talked and we knew it was eminent. Even though we had time together, it still wasn’t enough.

  • I wanted to thank you also. I know our hearts are with you. I lost my father unexpectedly when I was 20. I understand a lot of what you’re saying. Thank you. This meditation community is a wonderful place because we can say things straight from our heart.

  • I had to face this with my daughter and no other family member was willing to have this conversation about her choices. I don’t know if it’s still a viable website, but helped me have a conversation with my daughter near the end. I used the website to work out the health care directives that were needed so that I didn’t have to say them and she didn’t have to say them. They were incredibly helpful. It was a painful process, but it allowed me to be with her so cleanly. Everything was on the table. We were fully together. There was no elephant in the room. There was no hidden secret. It was all out so that I could walk with her as she went through it, face to face. It actually helped the rest of my family members, because they were holding their breath and didn’t know how to deal with it. It taught me an awful lot.

  • When we are able to talk about death, dignity becomes part of the process. My husband and I had a dear friend. He was 84 and terminal. He allowed us to walk with him through his dying process, and we were so honored. At the end, he took my husband’s hand and looked at him minutes before he passed, and said thank you for being my friend.

  • Stephen Jenkinson’s book, Die Wise is about dying with dignity based on his 40 years of work with hospice.

  • What more truth can you get than that? Utter truth talking. This is a heavy subject. It is hard to hear. It’s important to breathe, to honor the emotions felt. This certainly stirs up a lot for me. I will be gentle with myself. I will not beat myself up for avoiding difficult tasks. I will be gentle with myself because when it’s time for me to do the tasks I need to do that take a little more effort, there will be more of me present to carry them out. So I leave you all with the message of gentleness. Love yourself with these deep emotions. Have a gentle day.

Photo credit: Two People by Rock Formation, Patrick Hendry, @worldsbetweenlines,

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