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On Making a Good End

 

The other night my sister called to let me know that an elderly family friend had passed away. Helen was 94, a perceptive and spiritual woman who had known my parents for over fifty years. She's been living for quite some time in the sheltered care facility where my sister does office work, and I think that after our mom passed away four years ago, my sister found comfort and continuity in visiting this woman who had known our family well.

Helen's passing is not at all a cause for sadness, though. She seems, by all accounts, to have made a gentle passage. My sister recalled that Helen always refused to be sad over her husband's death. "Just think," she would say, gesturing around her, "He doesn't have to deal with any of this." Helen was active until the last, not (as my sister pointed out) confined to bed for endless months or mentally dulled in any way. Last week she confided to someone that she believed she'd completed what she was supposed to do here. On her final morning she'd gotten up and was starting to prepare for her day when the end overtook her.

I think sometimes about the similarities between birth and death, the sudden emergence from one world into another and the often-jarring nature of it. There are some small percentage of painless births which seem to be balanced out by gentle passings. I can't quite imagine that a baby on the verge of emergence into this life would grasp what was about to happen to him, but it seems that some perceptive older souls hear the rhythm of the waves that would carry them on this next journey and are ready when the moment comes, stepping in with the flow, not floundering or flailing but trusting the current to lead them through the passage unharmed.

 

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