Beyond Love: The dying man

They were together in silence like an old married couple wary of life, beyond the pitfalls of passion, beyond the brutal mockery of hope and the phantoms of illusion: beyond love. For they had lived together long enough to know that love was always love, anytime and anyplace, but it was more solid the closer it came to death.

—Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Love in the Time of Cholera

I walk into the house and see love in criss-crossing lines of activity that greet me like a bus station full of people all running towards those they have missed the most. They come down the stairs and into the kitchen, or out the front door, or across past the dining table and into the lounge. Family, friends, hospice nurses, doctor. Brief visits, long visits, quick checks, serious consults. Bed washes, fresh clothes, pain relief, drainage checks, hot drinks, cool drinks. Some days a flurry, some days a calm. But always attention, criss crossing attention, in the dying man’s direction, or his wife’s, or his daughter’s. People caring, people serving, people grieving, people checking in. But always people. There is no love without people. And the dying man is surrounded by people; and by people who most definitely love.

Entering here during times of high activity is an intrusion, a disruption to the schedules drawn up by the requirements of love. They have to pause to let me in, for one thing. Then pause again to make the coffee. Some days the activity is there at the door as I arrive, as teams leave at the stroke of twelve, the signal that it’s my turn, my time. On the odd occasion I sit at the dining table waiting for the activity to abate. For the talky doctor to wrap up his consult. Or for mum to finish cleaning up the dying man after a vomit. But mostly the activity parts, like the red sea at the command of Moses, and I get to have time with the dying man that no one else gets. And this is the real intrusion, the real disruption. Love is more than service, and goodbyes, and moments of grief. Love is connection. It’s conversation. It’s an encounter. It’s discovering the other, treasuring what you find. It’s being there when the bravado cracks open and the other reveals his heart, because he trusts that you can see how he sees his world. 

There’s no real obligation to let anyone into this space, to have these encounters, or to be discovered in this way. But love isn’t about obligation. If it was, those criss-crossing lines of activity would not occur as they do. No. Love is always grace. Always gift. Always willing presence and lingering concern. Always response. Always hope, even where there’s pain. And there is always pain where there is love. Especially, but not exclusively, where a man lays dying. 

In this house, love abounds.