Promises to the dying: in hospice and in life, the need to be realistic
By Ron King
Live out your deepest devotion with the courage of remaining in the moment and choosing to love through each day with the best you have to give.
A friend of mine promised her husband that she would never marry again so they could be together forever because that was his wish and he was dying. Three days later he died when he was 41 and she was 39. Today she is 64 and still single. No one can question the loyalty or sacrifice of another, but we do need to test our own readiness and ability to make final vows and keep them.
It is natural to feel a stronger bond when the gifts we give one another are costly. When a loved one is dying, no price seems too great to pay in order to demonstrate our love, attempt to help the other person along their journey, and deepen our bonds of attachment. Realistic commitments may bring a sense of connection, satisfaction, and peace. A covenant is reasonable when the obligation we make is limited and the fulfillment is possible. Since we are not eternal or omnipotent, however, we aren’t able to fulfill every promise. Because we don’t know what the future may bring, we also aren’t able to tell which promises both partners would agree make good sense to keep in years to come.
“Till death do we part” is hard enough to keep when everyone is alive to help us accomplish that goal. As parents, friends and others who support our dedication pass away, the best intentions can become more difficult. Our own physical and emotional health, as well as changing circumstances and resources, may also impact our ability to keep a promise. When we extend that promise beyond “till death do us part”, we may be entering a contract we are not able to keep.
My grandfather asked my grandmother on his deathbed not to cry after he was gone. She kept that promise. Until she died 35 years later at age 99, she kept that promise. As a result, she had chronic problems with her eyes and vision because her tear ducts ceased functioning. What had seemed to be a caring promise to make at the time, giving him peace of mind, had physical consequences for her.
It is easy to promise that loved one will be able to die at home, or with a loved one present. Living together “one day at a time,” however, may be a more realistic way to show mutual care for one another. A greater commitment may be to face whatever the future brings with faith to do what seems best or necessary in each moment. Agreeing to be honest, to listen and make choices together, to remain open to the uncertainties of life may be the greatest demonstrate our faith and love.
Resolve to do what you are able. Know and accept what is uncertain or cannot be controlled. Be careful about asking what may not be realistic of those you love. Practice the humility needed to know our common human limitations. Live out your deepest devotion with the courage of remaining in the moment and choosing to love through each day with the best you have to give.