Right now my family is waiting for my grandfather to die. He had a heart attack two weeks ago that tore an irreparable hole between ventricles. Doctors put him on hospice care and we have all been gathering in Birmingham, Alabama, to say goodbye.
Waiting for someone to die is in some ways waiting for someone to be born. You know the time will come. You may have an approximate idea of when that will be. But no one can tell you for sure, nor exactly how, nor what will happen next.
It’s natural to feel anxious by such lack of specificity, in death or any other human endeavor.
You can’t make a certain thing happen or not happen. You can’t make another person do or not do something. You can’t control the future because you didn’t control everything leading to it.
But it’s possible to find freedom in a lack of control.
I had a doctor tell me last year that I may need to have my ovaries removed. I had not planned to have more children, but I hadn’t planned not to, either. The idea of losing the option was infuriating until I realized that with some paths closed, I could more deeply explore others.
Alas, a lack of new life is not the same as the end of an existing one.
But I do think my grandfather is managing a good death precisely because he has not dwelt on it.
He is almost 90. He was married to a woman he loved, and was open to new love after she died. He worked hard and he was very active, walking and gardening and going to the gym and to church and to riverboat casinos and the lake until these very last few days.
He has been so committed to life that he didn’t even realize he’d had an ultimately fatal heart attack until days after it happened.
Maybe some deeply instinctive part of his brain knew this year would be his last. But lucky for him – lucky for those who love him – his heart did not.
I have said it differently, but I believe my grandfather would put it this way: The future isn’t in his hands, it’s in God’s.
Whatever your particular faith or lack of faith, know that when the outcome is beyond us, we can fully be us.
That is why life is better when we can’t control it.