As many parents can relate, my thoughtful littlest daughter is extremely skilled at finding excuses to delay her inevitable and most unjust banishment to bed for the night. A few nights ago, what brought Sammy to our room in tears felt more sincere. She told us she could not stop thinking about what it would be like if we (her parents) died. When we tried to reassure her that it will be many years before any of us die, she then expressed her fear about being left completely alone in the world. She was not able to picture the many connections she will make and family she will create as she grows up.
Death has been weighing on my heart lately in a different way. I fear not handling my grief well enough to continue taking care of my family or myself. I have very little experience of close family or friends passing away, and I feel unprepared to process it.
As a local community, we have experienced recent tragic deaths including the service-oriented mayor of Genesee. Our nation is reeling from multiple mass shootings in the past week alone. So many friends and acquaintances have experienced deaths of loved ones due to COVID-19.
This week I had the opportunity to spend time with a woman of powerful faith, boundless compassion and generous wisdom. I sat by her bed in her beautiful Moscow home where she has lived for many decades, talked a little, and mostly listened. In the twilight of her life, Kay Moore shared with me many of her beliefs on how to manage life, death, pain and illness. She also mixed in some very practical advice on keeping the cat litter box clean and avoiding static electricity shocks while petting our furry friends.
Her lifetime of service and goodness has inspired a space for many good women in our community to selflessly come to her assistance for her last months of life. While I was there, three different women — overlapping in their service — gave her practical help and filled the room with laughter and love. The companionship of those hours helped me grasp a tiny piece of why she emphasized to me that this time in her life was the happiest one. She told me that all her reasons to be grateful came clearly into focus.
I wish I could bottle up and remember all of the wonderful guidance that flowed from Kay’s heart that day and many other days, but I especially remember her advice to embrace the reality of life — all of it. That reminded me of a quote which has been pivotal in my life for the last five years. In the book “Loving What Is,” author Byron Katie writes, “When you argue with reality, you lose. But only 100% of the time.” Kay agreed with Katie’s words, sharing with me how the untreatable cancer which is bringing her lively adventure to a close has become not an enemy, but her “sweet monster.” When she listens to what the monster in her body needs, there are fewer bites and chomps. It seems that patience is often what the monster requires. Her acceptance and humor in a situation that might cause deep depression is refreshing to me. As we accept life, we also must accept death. Death is a part of the reality we embrace — whether our own or the death of someone who leaves our life.
How can Kay’s words of peace and guidance help us as we work through our own anxieties, comfort our children in their fears, and support members of our community in their grief? Well, there is no quick answer — rather, this is the path of our lives. We should not underestimate the toll it takes on our minds and bodies to focus on worry and bitterness. My hope is that we may consider the mental battles we fight with reality and refocus our energy to go forward and do good. Gratitude and real, difficult, messy acceptance are better mindsets to start from as we look to solve problems and make real change, or as we find energy to move through the times of grief in our lives.
Amanda Palmer is a mother of four and doctoral student at the University of Idaho, experiencing the highs and lows of life with her family on the Palouse since 2012.