This is to tell you where I’ve been, because you don’t keep asking but keep assuming that somehow, here, in this rural place we live bordered by sea and mountains, that life proceeds so smoothly, that surely I have time. It does proceed. I do have time. In the night there is time, when it’s quiet, except for the owl that hoots softly in the dark trees to the west of the house. This is what repeats. Emmy dying, even with my eyes closed, in my mind’s eye, I see her, up close, her face. I open my eyes but she’s still there, in the dark, she’s still there dying, and then she is there, dead, for all the world asleep. But the big sleep from which there is no waking.
It was a visit, I went for a final visit, when I got back from Toronto. That was all. In ICU the nurse asks if this is everyone. There are five of us. The son. The brother. The sister in law. The friend. The ludicrously over-dressed other friend arriving for a visit, straight from the airport.
Yes, this is everyone.
Let me know when you’re ready.
And so it is a visit, a last visit.
What is this mystic eye which sees in the dark? I see her dying over and over again, how her eyes were opened while she died. And when she was dead (the most peaceful departure I’ve ever seen), after so much pain and suffering, her eyes were opened, like she’d just gone away for a little bit. That she would be back soon.
Any minute now.
I kept wondering when her eyes would close, when she would lapse into unconsciousness. I don’t think she ever did, not until she took her last breath and her heart stopped. When she stopped.
And still her eyes were opened, those big sea water eyes. It was clear to us that she knew it was time when they took her off the oxygen and the IV which, I think, was giving her the medicine which was keeping her blood pressure up. Her heart beating. She was calm. She was not afraid. We were afraid. Her son, her brother, her sister in law, her friend Laura from up on the mountain, and me, right from the airport in my preposterous second hand vintage black coat with a big fur collar. She would have laughed at how absurdly I was dressed. It’s my death bed, not my funeral, not yet, you fucking idot. And we would both laugh. And yet she did not say it. Not a word. She did not speak. Breathing was all she could manage. And those opened eyes.
Maybe it’s better to say we were in awe. This is what was under the fear, this awe at life as it ended, as it was concluding. It was an untimely death but no one is ever promised a full life span. Youth does not protect us. Death is like nothing else except birth, when the entire world suddenly changes, shifts…and yet it has not. The world goes on, with this new ripple spreading and spreading. And with death, the world shifts forever, with this last great exhale flowing out.
Her brother’s grief is alive, a large creature on his shoulders, his enormous love for his sister reaching for him, embracing him. His wife by the bed, with her eyes closed. Life has been walloping her the last few years and this is one more beautiful flower she must release. In my mind’s eye how Emmy suddenly squeezed Laura’s hand at this turning point (when everything was so quietly and discreetly disengaged) and then with all her energy, Emmy stretching out her arms to her 22 year old son, one final embrace, one bear hug, as he wept and she held him. Released him. She looked at us with those ocean eyes, her breaths spacing out, and her eyes still open, looking at us, looking ahead at something we couldn’t see.
But in those big eyes of hers I saw the Bay of Fundy and myself as a small child running barefoot over the rocky beach, pigtails flying, Emmy on the beach, five years older, shaking her head, calling me a wild thing. And taking me swimming as the tide was coming in, showing me how to swim in this ancient and massive bay with the highest tides in the world, a tide which can bring in mists so dense you can’t see your own hands, tides which can sweep you out with that mist if you’re fool enough to stay in the water after the tide has turned. But Emmy taught me the secrets of the bay, the changes the tides brought, pointing up to the sky, the realm of the moon which has dominion over the salt waters so far below it.
Later, Emmy at the edge of the cliff, me running down that beach, over my shoulder seeing her there, not able to come down the path anymore, me no longer a child, but still running on those rocks, more cautious now, trying to find that unearthly balance my child’s body had, the complete trust in my destination at the far end of the beach.
My mind didn’t remember how to run on that precarious sloping basalt strand but my bare feet did, my outstretched arms did, my body remembered.
We walk down the hall, take the elevator, and we are all laughing, as though we’ve been at the strangest movie. Through the parking lot under the starry sky. I think of Gandalf, of all people. And he’s not a person, but a fictional wizard. Look to the east. At dawn.
I look to the west, at night, the gleaming curve of the crescent moon in the sky over the hospital.