New Cars and Other Broken Parts

I’m 44 and I have my first brand new car. And, when I say brand new, I mean, when I bought it, it was a model from a year that we were not even in yet. But, it has only been months, and something is wrong with it, already. Typical. I’m used to cars with something wrong. For example: the car shaking like mad when you press the brakes… or, you have to hold the lever in place to keep your high beams on… or, you have to crawl in through the passenger’s side door because the driver’s door doesn’t open from the outside — typical things like that.

You see, before my new car with the futuristic make year, I had a lot of new cars. New to me. New like, it was only 10 years old or maybe 15 if I was in a rough spot. My new old cars were so normal to me that when I asked the seller, “Okay, so what’s wrong with it?” I really just wanted the honest scoop. I knew there was going to be issues, perhaps even pulling out of the driveway, so I just wanted to know straight up what I needed to expect, prepare for, save for etc.

For instance, did I need to keep my foot on the accelerator racing it in neutral at stop signs because if it dipped below one RPM it would stall and then cause copious amounts of blue smoke to fill the entire area? Or, something less exciting but perhaps amusing like, watch out because the windshield washer fluid sprays off to the side and will hit someone if they are standing outside next to the car. (This could be considered a perk actually)

These little problems, and my careful attention and pride of knowing how to work with my cars made my cars mine. I loved knowing that even if I left the keys in the ignition, no one was going to be able to steal my car because they’d never figure out how to start it. My car. My imperfect vehicle matched my imperfect life. We were a team. We could get through knee high mud together — and did.

This did not mean I did not get mad at my cars. Electric windows that do not roll up when it is 20 below zero really suck. When you have to choose between paying your electric bill and paying your car insurance, obviously you have to choose your electric bill — which, not your cars fault of course. But, when you get rear-ended by someone (also not you, or your car’s fault) and YOU get a ticket because you do not have insurance, you get mad at your car. Also, not your cars fault, but, sometimes in emotional relationships unkindness and accusations are thrown around.

I work with people who are dying. Their body is a make, year and model that is meeting its end and it can get rough. A lot of these beautiful people still have so much life in them and their desire to keep going is so strong. They share with me what’s going on with them, how this part or that is not working like it used to and how some parts are failing and there is no way to fix it. They share that they sometimes are really angry, scared, sad and they get frustrated when they can’t remember something. I listen. Sometimes I’ll walk beside them, keeping an eye on the terrain to be sure it’s safe for their gait. If I can see that one side is weaker than the other I adjust to make sure they don’t go off the path. I keep tissues in my pocket in case the tears start flowing and I keep my nose alert in case there are other leaks that need to be tended to. Sometimes when we are dying we get leaky, we pull to the right, we go off the main road.

When I speak with these individuals I try to offer simple remedies, like, “maybe instead of walking down the stairs now, you can scoot on your bottom- one step at a time. But, still hold the railing if you can.” We talk about the adjustments and how to be the most gentle with themselves. And at the end of the conversation, I tell them they are doing everything just right. I tell them, I believe they are healthy. Not because they are going to live an extended magical period of time, but because I’m helping them through a healthy dying process. And, yes, one can remain healthy during dying — even heal — though, it might look different than we are used to.

The thing is, this is hard to accept. We are used to taking our car to the garage, getting it fixed and then going on with life as usual. But, when one is dying, that doesn’t happen. There is no getting back to life as usual. This is life. With all of its squeaking and broken parts, it does not run like it used to. Yet, the engine keeps going until it stops so in the meantime we need to learn about our go-go-gadgets that don’t work like they should and readjust.

My car has nothing wrong with it, and that’s the real problem.

I’m used to bonding with my vehicles over the problems that they have. I’ve had a problem/solution relationship with my vehicles and that is all that I’ve ever known. That’s what we do as humans. We live, have an experience, have a dilemma, work on it, or don’t work on it, have another experience, keep going… There’s always something to do, something that has to be done, something to improve, or move, or destroy and though that may be exhausting at times, that’s how we live life. We expect the next thing.

A lot of those next things become insignificant when you’re dying. Sometimes they are not possible and may even seem absurd. But, in a society where there is always something to do, sometimes the hardest thing to adapt to when you are dying is that, you’re okay. It’s okay. Everything you have done is enough — not because that is necessarily how you feel or how others feel — but because there is now only one thing left to do: be where you are.

I woke up this morning (hallelujah) I peed and pooped (excellent) I ate food and my body processed it into energy (miraculous) and later, I will go pick my child up from school in a vehicle that starts easily and drives smoothly down the road.

Because we cannot ever know when things will need repair work, it’s best to settle into things when they are working well, because one day things won’t work “well.” If things are flowing as they should, just crack the window, turn up the music, and ride.

Author of Death Nesting and Ancient Death Doula Series. Feeding Your Demons Facilitator. Community Deathcare teacher. Mama of three. www.annemariekeppel.com