2022 - July - Gazette - Legacy and Loss

By: Jackie Naginey Hook
Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Legacy and Loss

My sister-in-law died last week. Cancer was a part of Cheryl for many years and it ultimately squeezed the life out of her. Her loss left us with sadness as well as a legacy we will carry with us. What I’m pondering today is the legacy her dying left me. Yes, the dying process was brutal at times, but the four gifts she gave me along the way were profoundly beautiful.

One gift was Cheryl’s invitation to companion her for parts of the dying journey. It takes courage to invite others along with you on this very intimate process and Cheryl opened herself to John, me and the rest of her family and friends. She didn’t have expectations of us, but welcomed whatever we wanted to offer. This generosity allowed us to be authentic and not worry about the “shoulds.”

A second gift was Cheryl’s ability to normalize dying. She spoke matter-of-factly about what was happening and appeared as if she had made peace with her prognosis – she definitely wasn’t happy about it, but she was reconciled to it. This put me at great ease. On one afternoon, she sat in her bed and directed me as I went through her drawers and helped organize some of her belongings. Cheryl counted medical items and threw others away explaining she wouldn’t live long enough to use them. She told me which items to place in piles designated for certain people after her death. It felt to me like this was simply a part of her “nesting” and I felt comfortable and privileged to help.

The third gift was Cheryl’s willingness to be present in a deep way. This gift came one afternoon when my husband and I took Cheryl outside. The three of us sat together for two hours in near total silence. Cheryl’s eyes were closed and she was often grinning. John went inside and got needed items, like a blanket or refilled water bottle, and upon his return, Cheryl opened her eyes, smiled and said, “John!” Outside of those few words, it was silence. I watched a bunny nibbling the grass while keeping an eye on us. I watched a milkweed float through the air until it disappeared and thought about Cheryl’s soul soon doing the same thing. This was sacred and holy ground. Writer and speaker, Parker J. Palmer, wrote, “The soul speaks its truth only under quiet, inviting, and trustworthy conditions.” It was clear to John and me that the three of our souls were connected and at peace. Any unfinished business between us was resolved. Nothing needed to be said.

And the fourth gift was Cheryl’s “visit” at 4:30 a.m. the morning of her death. Both John and I awoke at that time in our home 60 miles away. Almost immediately I had a “sense” of Cheryl. It was more than a thought but less than a vision – it was a peaceful “sense” throughout my body.  As we gathered with family later that day, I learned that we weren’t the only ones awakened at that time and I wasn’t the only one who had a “sense” of Cheryl. It turns out that 4:30 a.m. was the time when aside from her breathing, Cheryl’s body stopped moving altogether. Could Cheryl have made these “visits” to help us get ready for her final departure in a few hours? We appreciate the possibility.

Here’s the thing about legacies, we all leave them whether we want to or not. So why not be intentional and leave our loved ones’ gifts? Cheryl did this for me and I’ll be forever grateful.

To read more about legacy and loss, please visit the Koch Funeral Home blog and social media sites. In addition, you are invited to the following gatherings.

For more information, please visit the Bereavement Gatherings and Events page on the Koch Funeral Home website. To reserve your spot and receive the invitation links, email Jackie@JackieHook.com, call 814-237-2712 or visit the Koch Funeral Home Facebook page @kochFH. If there are changes to our in-person gatherings because of COVID, we will provide updates on the website.

Jackie Naginey Hook, MA, is a spiritual director, celebrant and end-of-life doula.  She coordinates the Helping Grieving Hearts Heal program through Koch Funeral Home in State College.  For more information, please call 814-237-2712 or visit www.kochfuneralhome.com.


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