Books, Grief, and #Outlander

Sometimes you just know things. A thought, unbidden, rises with certainty. Not something hoped for. Not something expected. But something Known.

When I heard my mom had a mass in her lung, I knew it was cancer. And before the radiation and chemo and pet scans, I knew–just as sure as autumn’s days grow shorter–that when the season’s chill gave way to cold, she would also give way to something, to whatever comes After.

This brave, wise, and faithful woman taught me to live. Now, as these numbered days march on, she teaches me the Final Lesson. How to die.  The one thing that she cannot teach me is how to go on without her.  This lesson I must figure out on my own, and a lonely, stumbling journey it is.

Raised with books as I was, I look there for solace: I try to find escape; I try to find guidance.  Something to hold onto when I can no longer hold her.

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A pile of books waits for me next to my bed.  The spines cracked with use.  Pages dog-earred.  C. S. Lewis shared his own journey in A Grief Observed, and I cling to it like a map out of the abyss.  I spare a thought for the repose of his own soul, and in the next ragged breath I say a word of thanks for Diana Gabaldon and her Outlander series.  Mere words on paper, to be sure, but words that have helped me untangle thoughts, find hope and faith, soothe both anger and fear… Now I turn to those beloved books in the blind panic of a grief much dreaded.

Considering the span of years (and the time period) which Gabaldon’s books cover, it is only natural that death and loss occurs.  Claire’s parents.  Jamie’s parents.  Murtaugh. Ian Murray. Frank. Mrs. Bug. Faith. Even merely presumed deaths cast a long shadow across the page.

We see death through the eyes of so many characters.  And, in them, we see ourselves  Every stage of grief is represented:  denial, anger, bargaining, depression, then finally…acceptance.

Last night I reread the pages of Ian Murray’s death.  I grabbed the book off the pile and took it with me to my son’s football practice.  The heat of the day had dissolved into a crisp breeze, and the Oklahoma sun was blazing pink and yellow behind the black of the shadowed tree line.  Under dusk’s shadows, I flipped through the pages until I found it.

The death was neither easy nor poetic, but his soul’s final passage was a gentle slipping away.

He didn’t speak again but seemed to settle, his body diminishing as life and breath fled from it.  When his last breath came, they waited in dull misery, expecting another, and only after a full minute of silence did they begin to look at one another covertly, stealing glances at the ravaged bed, the stillness in Ian’s face–and realized slowly that it was over at last.

Despite the fact that we know it is coming, we never quite expect it; we wait for a breath that never comes, and glance at one another for confirmation.  Is this it?  Is this all?  We always want there to be more.

They move on.  Then we move on.  We proceed with preparations.  Busy ourselves with What Must Be Done.  But realization finds us in the quiet moments.  It always does.

When Jamie and Jenny find a quiet moment together, Jenny asks her brother the thought that has lingered in her mind despite her distractions:

“Where d’ye think he is now?” Jenny asked suddenly.  “Ian, I mean.”

He glanced at the house, then at the new grave waiting, but of course that wasn’t Ian anymore.  He was panicked for a moment, his earlier emptiness returning–but then it came to him, and, without surprise, he knew what it was Ian had said to him.

“On your right side, man.”  On his right.  Guarding his weak side.

“He’s just here,” he said to Jenny, nodding to the spot between them.  Where he belongs.”

This is what I am holding on to…that long after I stop waiting for the breath that never comes, I will always find her, just there, guarding my weak side.

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14 thoughts on “Books, Grief, and #Outlander

  1. There really aren’t words to describe waiting for your mother to die. I found the Outlander books during the 6 or so horrible weeks that I went through this experience. They helped me, too. All I can say is that the days continue to march along and you find happiness where you can. My mom didn’t begrudge me any happiness or comfort that I found during her dying process (when she was lucid) and I doubt yours will want you to feel bad if you can find some joy either.
    I don’t know if not being entirely herself made things easier or harder for my mom. She got to where she didn’t understand much of what was going on around her at the end so she may have been afraid. I hope not.
    I hope your mother has freedom from both pain and fear as she makes this transition into death. I hope you do too.

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  2. In true Outlander spirit, try to set aside your fears and be open to, and accepting of, whatever she needs from you. My thoughts are with you both.

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  3. I am so sorry you are going thru this difficult time. It is unbelievably hard. This Thursday will be the 39th year of my Mothers’ passing, so I have been thinking about her a lot. You will find peace. My thoughts and prayers will be with you.

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  4. My mother has dementia and today she was scared because she didn’t recognize anything but my voice. She told me she wants to die. I started the Outlander series allmost 2 years ago, when my Mom had to move out of my house. ( I couldn’t work and take care of her by myself anymore). I am watching my Mom die, but not physically. No matter how, watching is horrible. I do still find so much joy reading Diana’s words and sometimes tears too. I send you my prayers for comfort and peace, I also thank you for your words today.

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  5. Just reading those short passages brings me to tears. And as Jamie says the dead are never truly gone-they are with us, living inside us.

    My mom died just over 4 years ago.I spent the last 4 weeks of her life with her, watching as she slowly expired. The only way I could get through it was by writing about it. I’m glad I did. It helps me to remember that time spent there. But the memories I have of her inside me are those from long before she lay dying.

    I didn’t discover Gabaldon’s books untill 2 years ago but I find myself reading her books over and over again. Often breaking out in tears like I just did from the short passage in your piece. Her words cut to the bone and I can relate them to so many things in my life. Including my mother’s death.

    Words on paper help us to make sense of the world.

    If you’re interested, you can go to my blog and read the story of my last journey with my mom. The address is: http://justhilarie.jabana.se/
    The entries are listed in chronological order from top to bottom on the right side of the page under the heading Saying Goodbye to Mom.

    Good luck on your own journey with your mom.

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  6. I still have this journey ahead of me and do not look forward to it. Thank you for sharing your heartache. All I can offer is find comfort where you can, whether in the written word, a touch, a movie, a good cry or the presence of a friend. My prayers are with you.

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  7. Well said. Wish I could add words that would ease your pain or add insight. All I know is that as I read your story, I felt your pain. Maybe knowing it was shared and you were cared about will help a little. Maybe the fact that by sharing your pain you will have comforted others and Lewis, Gabaldon and others have helped you. Thank you.

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  8. My mom passed 16 years ago, my dad, just 5 months ago. One sadly expected, the other surprisingly unexpected. Your words reminded me of many of my coping actions as I went thru their last days. I was blessed to be with them when they passed, and my books were always there to comfort me. Diana’s series served as another “family member” for me as I struggled with the what next. Thank you for your good words and I wish you peace and love as you go on this journey with your mom.

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  9. I had the blessing of caring for and being with my father at the end of his life. The cancer that ravished this robust, active man who had given me life, taught me what terror and true hatred were. Hatred toward a disease that has claimed several of those I have dearly loved. I can now cherish those last weeks with him, being able to show him how much he truely meant to me and my family. And to be there at the very end was a great gift to him and myself, after all he was there for my beginning, it was right that I should be there for his end. It was one of the most intimate moments of my life, for which I am grateful. I hope that in time, you will be able to cherish being with her through this very difficult time. Love, prayers and peace to you and your family.

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  10. I just found your blog. I just blazed through all the Outlander books at the recommendation of my mother and I am amazed at how thought provoking they are. I find that the parts that draw me most are the beautiful reflections of the gospel as well as richly evoked pictures of the true experience of being human. This post had me in tears. I’m sorry that you are walking this path now. I’m also amazed at how sweet God is to let us find such comfort through seeing others go through similar experiences with grace and that stories touch us and move our hearts so.

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    • I am glad that you stumbled on the blog, and I thank you for your kind words. I do marvel how much the books has enriched my life, both as an escape and as an avenue for finding others who share my appreciation for this incredible story. Slainte!

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