The text said, “I just learned that Bruce transitioned yesterday. What a blessing he was in my life. No news of service or memorial.” A few moments later, the phone rang and I heard my friend’s voice say, “Sorry. That was cold to tell you in a text; thought I better call.”
I thanked her, hung up, and went to find a sympathy card in my basket. Anything to deal with the numbness brought on by the news. Bruce was a larger-than-life personality. Scholar, Renaissance man, athlete, and the kindest person I knew. Vigorous, humble, and confident, he was comfortable with everyone, holding court at Saturday breakfasts with the local intelligentsia. The dementia started almost as soon as he retired. He fought it every way he could until he told me one day, “I am no longer me.”
While we lived in the same college town, I saw him often, and then visited whenever I could; but those occasions became more infrequent over time. Finally, I resorted to finding colleagues to deliver a bag of White Castle hamburgers every few months.
I’m at peace with Bruce’s passing for his sake.
However, this was the second time in as many days that I heard the word “transitioning.” Another friend, whom I hadn’t seen or heard from since the pandemic began, also texted. In her message, she wrote, “I’m hanging in there, a day at a time. A couple of weeks after Bill transitioned, I got a big puppy, Sammy Small.” I inferred that she meant that her husband, Bill, had died, but I wasn’t at all sure. I had not heard that news so, before I responded, I checked in with some mutual friends who confirmed my guess.
Transitioning! It is not a word I am familiar with as a euphemism for “died.” I Googled it—of course I did. It refers to a term in palliative care, active dying. My friends used it to describe someone who has transitioned from this life to another. It’s a comforting way to think about death as a journey to something beyond. Unfortunately, I don’t share that belief. For me, death is the culmination of being. If I throw a little karma in there, I guess I’d like to believe a good life deserves an easy death—but, unfortunately, that is not generally the case.
So I try to live my fullest every day, to ease those I know “in transition” while I can, and comfort those whom they leave behind. I celebrate their lives and cherish their memories.
He passes away
Leaving this life for the next
Behind we stay sad
His is a journey
Ours is an enormous loss
He is free from pain
There was no goodbye
We send wishes on the breeze
He sends nothing back
We wait our turn now
Perhaps we will join with him
Perhaps we will not