Alice died peacefully on Wednesday at 1 p.m. Meg and I were with her. Her breathing had been ragged and labored and then it evened out a little. Finally it changed to slow, shallow, and steady, and then stopped.
She had not been conscious for some time. The last time she was awake and understanding some of her world was Tuesday morning. Once again I read her the messages on the birthday cards, but this time after each message, she’d say in true appreciation, “That’s nice.”
I’d read a few and then ask if she wanted me to stop because I thought she might be getting tired, but she always answered, “No. Read more.”
She understood through the cards and my reassurance that she had reached her goal of 100.
By the time she was ready for the reading to end, there were so many cards on the bed she surely must have felt through the bedclothes the comfort of all that love, kindness, wit, originality and beauty resting against her.
After she died, I lay on the bed beside her and held her for a while and cried my heart out, but for myself and not for her time coming at last to leave this life behind. She wanted to reach her goal of 100. She did it. I’ve never met a more determined woman. She wanted and deserved a peaceful death. I believe she welcomed it.
We made sure we were clear that we had forgiven each other for everything that needed forgiving back when she was staying at Hopewell House. We made sure we thanked each other for everything, too, and we acknowledged how important these past years together have been, the time necessary to heal old wounds between us and get to know one another as two women who made their way in the world along very different paths but came to respect and admire each other anyway. “I never knew I loved you so much,” Alice said to me one night as we pressed our foreheads together, she in her hospice bed and me perched alongside. I felt the same, because it seemed to both of us that the love had been there all along, underlying everything, waiting to be recognized and completely known.
When I lay next to her and held her after she’d died, there was a moment of pure ecstasy that seemed to fill the whole room, as if we both were rising up and touching an awareness that the two of us had accomplished something wonderful together.
If you want to take something from this story of Alice and me, take this: Whatever healing you’re waiting for to happen out there in your world, just know it’s possible. It is.
More to come, but for now I’m going to attend to the things that need attending to after a death. Meg is with me. My friends have gathered around. I feel a little unanchored, but I’m okay, and I hope you are, too. Love to all of you.
Thank you, Chris Bourdette, for this poem:
From a Country Overlooked
There are no creatures you cannot love.
A frog calling at God
From the moon-filled ditch
As you stand on the country road in the June night.
The sound is enough to make the stars weep
In the morning the landscape green
Is lifted off the ground by the scent of grass.
The day is carried across its hours
Without any effort by the shining insects
That are living their secret lives.
The space between the prairie horizons
Makes us ache with its beauty.
Cottonwood leaves click in an ancient tongue
To the farthest cold dark in the universe.
The cottonwood also talks to you
Of breeze and speckled sunlight.
You are at home in these
great empty places
along with red-wing blackbirds and sloughs.
You are comfortable in this spot
so full of grace and being
that it sparkles like jewels
spilled on water.
– Tom Hennen