Thursday, July 15, 2010


Last summer when Nana died, hospice came to her hospital room and brought care and pamphlets.

While Nan slept, breathing through an open mouth, I sat on the empty twin bed next to her and read through the booklet on the dying process.

The words printed there described, perfectly, what was happening in the room, to her body, in our family. They named her weakness, the rattle we suddenly heard in her breathing, the pink splotches that appeared on the bottoms of her feet.

It was as if the words were changing her body as I read them, and the booklet began to feel like a sacred text that held the secrets of death, of how we leave life, of how the times of sleep and unconsciousness are part of release.

At the same time, it felt almost crude, crass, to have our intimate experience summarized in a booklet doled out to hospital rooms. This wasn't a scientific observation, this was Nana, Nana, and the sweet, intimate, mysterious, achy loss we were being forced into.

And yet, as she died, I watched her leave the world just as the book said, step by step.

Last week, hospice came to Cindy's house and brought pamphlets. I half wanted to take one and tuck in away in a guarded place and half wanted to throw them all out to protect everyone from them. But once again, I found myself sitting on a bed, reading through the dying process. And despite my belief that Cindy couldn't really die, as the book said, she began to stay awake for shorter periods. Talking became too difficult. She communicated in moans and hums. Again, the printed words proved true. And then suddenly Sunday night, with everyone around her, she stopped breathing and was gone.

I can't quite hold the weighty fact that people die, vanish, and we don't see them again. Bear might be a better verb -- it is a fact we have to bear, not just hold for a moment but carry with us every day. How do we bear these absences? An absence should be weightless because that's what it is, the lack of a weight. But instead it the heaviest. Isn't that true in space, as well? A black hole looks like nothing but has the most concentrated mass?

I feel like I'm grappling with belief in death's existence -- it is too dark and silent. I know it makes no sense to contest death, to grapple with it -- it's fact; death isn't debatable. Dying has happened billions of times. People die around the world all day every day. It's been studied. The process is printed in booklets. It affects every single person on the planet. I have even watched it happen with my own eyes and felt the fact of it like a huge stone lodged in my chest. And yet, I am sitting here at the dining room table wondering how can it be, such finality?


Anonymous said...

B-you write the words many of us have thought but could never express. love you, mh

mMc said...

as always, bronwen, so beautifully put. holding you all in my heart.


Anonymous said...

Bronwen, you write with words like a master artist creates with paints. You express the sentiments of what you experienced so poignantly that I feel like I have been there, beside you...

Death is almost incomprehensible, even though we know it's ultimately everyone's fate. Isn't it? And yet, in Christ we have hope for resurrection and for something beyond the mere absence, something more than just a disappearance or a void.

Love and condolences to you and your family...

"Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name."
- John 20:30-31

"We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life." - Romans 6:4