Erinn and I had the deep privilege of sitting with our friend Will as he slipped away last night.
I’d only known Will for a few years, but I feel like it’s been longer. He was a tall, usually soft-spoken, gentle dude, who did things in his own way. I learned last night that a number of years ago he ran the drop-in at Council Fire, a Native Cultural Center downtown. He had also been a squeegee kid at one point. He loves movies, and had a big shelf of collectibles. He had been a singer in a metal band. He had some awesome tattoos. He always wore a ball cap and two or three coats, as he was always a little chilly. He adored his beautiful old cat, Joey.
Will had been sick for a number of months, and had made arrangements for his eventual passing. According to his persistently independent wishes, he stayed at home with Joey for as long as possible, until yesterday morning when he no longer answered his phone or door. One of his community nurses asked us to go and check on him, and it became clear that he needed to be out of his apartment and into a hospital. The whole team of people who played a role in his last 9 hours of life were amazing – the paramedics, firefighters, doctors, nurses, community nurses, and support workers. When he left us around 8pm, he was surrounded by five people who loved him- his “chosen family”.
It felt so so wrong to be saying goodbye to this 46 year old friend, whose life had been way too hard. And it was a beautiful blessing to have been invited into his life, and to be allowed to play a role in midwifing him to the next leg of his journey.
When I got home last night I picked up a book by Anne Lamott called Traveling Mercies, and starting reading where I had left off. It happened to be the chapter where she talks about being with a friend as the friend died. The process she described was almost identical to the one I had just witnessed. This felt like a gift. And made me think about the traveling mercies that had been given to Will- a pain-free, med-free death, wonderful EMS workers, an emergency room that became almost silent just as he was taking his last breaths.
Death is the worst. I can’t wait until the day when it is swallowed up in Life. And in the meantime, I am grateful for the provision of these little traveling mercies, and the chance to walk alongside my friend Will.