Last Friday I received the news that one of my clients died, that his lifeless body was found curled up in the fetal position on his kitchen floor. For the past six months this man halfheartedly fought, but mostly surrendered, to stage four cancer. He accepted that his life was ending and had no desire to extend his anguish.
In almost a decade of social work I have lost many a client. The populations typically served by social workers are inherently vulnerable and at a much higher risk for traumatic and early deaths. Yet with every loss I find myself rattled to the core, unsteady and distressed. I spent months anticipating the death of this particular client but I still found myself stunned at the news of his departure. Accepting death is always peculiar and acquiescing to its finality is eternally abnormal. That we even the possess awareness of our own mortality is extraordinarily bizarre.
I am sad that this kind, funny and caring man will no longer roam this Earth with us. I wonder about how long he agonized on his cold, hard kitchen floor before his pain concluded. But more than anything I find myself troubled by the knowledge that no circumstance is permanent, that my existence will one day also come to an end.
When someone dies we are reminded that life has an expiration date. This consciousness is tormenting and burdensome; it weighs on our humanity, heavy like a dead donkey. Death is life’s curtain call, it’s most final and irreversible conquest. One day each and every single one of us will breathe our last breaths. This reality is exceptionally unsettling. Absolutely nothing can soothe the unrest that this realization produces in our souls, the anxiety it causes in even our most rational minds.
In the wake of death we seek comfort in recollections of the departed but we run from the disturbing and unnerving notion of our own transience. This man will continue to live on for as long as wisps of his memory drift through the hearts and minds of those that knew him. And so I will sit with my sadness but I will also accept this loss as a disconcerting reminder of my own impermanence. In this death I find the inspiration to live an authentic life, to keep a vulnerable heart and to embrace my own temporariness.
We never know when the universe’s giant shoe may come along to squish us. In life there is death but if we are attentive and exposed, if we seek meaning in sorrow, we will find that in death there is also life.