“Is this a clandestine meeting?” my elderly aunt asked me when I arrived at her hospital bed yesterday morning.
“Yes, it is,” I said, and we laughed.
We had spoken the night before. She was ready to move on, done with this world, in her 93rd year eager and happy, contented and determined.
“Will you see me through?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said, “I’ll see you through.”
So began a process that we both knew had begun eons ago, lifetimes ago, not clandestine in the usual sense of the word, but more like a final meeting that we both knew was meant to be fulfilled. Not only had we conversed over the past few years and weeks about her death, but we both knew that we had been a part of each other’s lives many times before. There was no doubt that we had sat at each other’s deathbeds before, prepared to “see the other through.”
The day began with determination and focus. She was ready and the mission was begun. We went over everything together, making sure that she knew what to expect as we took her off the machines, and that all of her wishes were attended to. She thanked her body for being such a pleasant and steady vehicle her entire life, letting it know that it would be handled with respect when she left it behind. We talked about the dying process as like being born. In fact, this had been our conversation for many weeks. She had called me the night before.
“Why can’t I die?” she pleaded.
“Well, I’m going to be very straightforward with you. You are dying,” I said, reminding her of what we had spoken about. “You are in the process. You are going through the labor of dying just like you once went through the labor of being born. Your body remembers it even if you don’t. It will happen, you are already on your way. It takes patience and release.”
“Okay,” she said. “Thank you.”
We talked about her diving in and swimming into the light and not looking back or getting distracted. She was thankful for an image that she could work with as she lay dying.
“I’m ready to swim into the light,” she said when our preparatory talk was done, and so began her final journey on this earth.
In a most profound experience we spent the next twelve hours together, both of us going in and out of worlds. She spoke a few last wishes and then relaxed into the process. A few relatives came and went, the priest came and gave her final rites. We prayed for her. The prayers of my Catholic childhood, not spoken in many years, came easily to my tongue, spoken for her, a devout Catholic. I prayed for her in my own way too throughout the day, the things we had already spoken of: that her journey be peaceful, joyous, and happy, that she leave this world and its worries behind and go freely now.
I had told her that I would see her as far as I could, but then she would have to take over.
She nodded, and then asked, “When?”
“You’ll know,” I said, “when you’re ready.”
“Okay,” she said, and that was all we needed to agree on; we would both know when the time was right. I bent down and whispered in her ear, giving her encouragement throughout the day, until I felt my job was done. Then I let go of her hand and sat back.
Chuck came and joined me in the evening. We sat beside her together as she breathed her last breath. We experienced her energy calmly leaving her body, not looking back, her spirit freed, swimming right into the light.
We all have a clandestine meeting with death. My aunt knew this. She was well prepared, unafraid, looking forward to the journey. Today I feel her having that experience, as profoundly and fully as we had our experience together yesterday.
I too will one day swim into the light, and I look forward to going as peacefully and with as much dignity as my aunt did yesterday. I thank her for allowing me to be part of her long journey in this life and I wish her Godspeed on her new journey in infinity.
See also Chuck’s blog: Here Comes The Judge, on the same subject.