i take off as soon as i get the call from my dad, rushing to make the drive to CO in time. it seemed important to do so, 3 years had somehow slipped by since my last visit. i suppose i justify this because of her dementia, which years ago left a mind that i barely recognize and no longer recognizes me.
i make it in time to sit through the night and, surrounded by her children, watch her tiny flame finally die out in the morning, her last breath taken without significance. anticlimactic in passing, no lights flicker, no final squeeze of my hand, no ghostly spirit rising through the air, nothing. the line between life and death seems as paper thin as her skin. my aunt cries, my dad cries, we all cry. my uncle stumbles in from his smoke break, breathing heavily from the exertion of walking down the hall, and sees the look in our faces. "did she go?"
everybody processes things in their own way; i know not to judge.
my aunt, her sole daughter and main caregiver during the past many years, is audibly upset, a large departure from her usual character. my uncle, seemingly unaffected, walks over and with a flat handed pat on the shoulder, says "thanks mom."
my stoic father continues to touch her face, looking somber, tense, tired.as we wait for the coroner, he'll look out the window and say to me "we're all dying, that's for sure. if you have anything to say to anybody, you best say it sooner than later." i don't respond, but think of the people, the faces, the things i'd say to them.
later, i'll escape to the flatirons and find a couple of long, easy routes to free climb and let my mind clear. under cotton candy skies and a warm fall breeze, i'll stop mid route and gaze south down the front range and take in the beauty and exposure.
i'll think back to the hospice she died in, the window without a view, the demented elders stalking the dimly lit hallways, the drone of TVs, vital monitors, and the smell of old urine. the place didn't seem to sleep.
her physical appearance no longer represented the other 99% of her life, as a sweet, caring, selfless, hard working person and mother.
i'll think of the things i didn't have a chance to say to her.
finally i'll snap back into focus, into the present, into the beauty, and gaze up at the remainder of the climb.
i know how i don't want to die. alas, a futile wish.
but the exercise yields an important thought for the present - we may not have the fortune to control the manner of our death; only our life and the ways we choose to live it.