Doing the right thing, even when death is imminent
I have sat here watching the cursor blink on a blank page for at least five minutes. My eyes are heavy today. My heart is sad. It’s just one of those grief days, I guess. We all know it comes in waves. I guess today is just a hard day.
Yesterday was great. I had a good night’s sleep. Plenty to eat. I am hydrated. But for some reason, I am still feeling so tired. Grief weighs a thousand pounds, and some days, it is hard to carry.
I want to tell you I don’t know why I am so down today, but I know exactly why. I just don’t know how to express it. I am doubting my ability to find the right words to tell you what I am feeling. But I am going to try.
When my husband died of cancer, many people sent me well wishes. Sincere, heartfelt well wishes for he was a good man. So many people reminisced about how kind Chad was. How generous. How decent. I had always known this, so you can imagine how my heart swelled with pride knowing that other people knew it, too.
One friend of his told me how he had given him a piece of lawn equipment when he didn’t have one of his own. Another told me how he was always smiling and how, even when he was sick, he was always looking out for others.
Last night, a friend of his told me that during the course of their job as police officers, Chad was the first to arrive on scene where a woman was dying after an accident. Chad was dying, too. He knew he was. The cancer was slowly eating at every part of his body, yet when he arrived on scene that day, it was not the first thing on his mind. The first thing on his mind was cradling this woman as she died. A stranger holding a stranger while she took her last breath. A stranger who was also facing certain death, putting that aside to comfort a woman he did not know. A stranger who was able to put his own crisis aside to hold her in his arms, so she would not be afraid. A stranger who whispered to her, “you are not alone.”
And, simpler than that – he fueled up his police car. On his last night at work, he was in so much pain he could not stand it anymore and he had to come home early. Customarily, the officers at his department share patrol cars, so on their last work day, they fuel and wash their cars, so it is ready for the next officer when he comes on shift. The last night Chad worked was not his last scheduled work day, but he knew he was never going back. He knew he would be taking off his vest and badge one last time, for the last time. And in his despair and his agonizing pain, he still managed to fuel and wash the car before he came home early that night, only to die three weeks later. But, like always, he did the right thing. He did the kind thing.
He’s gone now but these lessons stick with me. Admittingly, I don’t always do the kind thing. I don’t know many people who do. It’s hard sometimes. It’s hard to be nice in a world full of mean people. It’s hard to look past people’s shortcomings. It’s hard to put a smile on your face when you feel like the world is crashing down. It is hard to be kind when life isn’t going right.
And when it gets really hard, I remember these stories. I remember how, as my husband suffered, he never let it block what was right. He never felt sorry for himself. He never sacrificed the man he was in spite of his anger, or fear, or confusion, or sadness. He was never blinded by his cancer or his situation.
He looked life straight in the face and decided to do the right thing, no matter what his circumstances. He made the decision to fuel the car. He made the decision to hold that woman until she died. He made the decision to be kind. No matter what, he decided.
I think we can all learn from this. I think we can all decide to do the right thing. I see bad decisions all day long, every day, in every single place. I see people cutting people off in traffic. I see people arguing about petty things to prove who’s right. I see people being mean just to be mean. I see people talking down to each other. I see people holding anger because they are too proud to forgive. And sometimes, they will never get the chance.
I had nightmares last night. I imagined what it must have been like to be him. I imagined what it must have felt like to hold a dying person knowing my time was near. I imagined what it must have been like to fuel the car knowing it was the last time. And, I imagined what the conflict inside of him must have felt like to man up in his fear and do it anyway.
It’s a simple choice to do the right thing. It’s a simple choice to be kind. I want to be like him. I want to be that person. I want to do the right thing. I want to be kind. I hope you do, too.
Diana Register is a 9-1-1 dispatcher in Idaho, who lost her police officer husband in 2016. Diana’s bestselling book, “Grief Life,” is now available in print and kindle. Experience love, laughter, loss and hope in this raw, emotional, honest look at grief. You can follow her work on her Facebook page.