“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
Back in Junior High I discovered my all time favorite book. “The Little White Horse” by Elizabeth Goudge. At the time I paid no attention to the preachiness of the text–I fell in love with the protagonist, the setting and the descriptions of the food. Ms Goudge was a theologian’s daughter and a contemporary of JRR Tolkien–both were show-offs–why use one word when ten will do. They both included long “songs”, verses, meant, I suppose to show their versatility as poets as well as novelists. I just skipped over them. JK Rowling said this book was her favorite and patterned her descriptions of food at Hogwarts after the delicacies prepared by Marmaduke Scarlett. I loved stubborn proud Maria, her horrible little dog Wiggens, her stone tower bedroom with the crescent moon and stars carved on the ceiling. Above all I loved her adventures and the ultimate triumph of good over evil. I still read this book every year, sometimes twice!! It holds every single vice and virtue we have as humans, and imagery of the human condition that I identified with as a young teen. I particularly loved the descriptions on the final pages about the end of life.
But in this world nothing stays still, and in the fullness of time Miss Heliotrope and Old Parson became very old indeed, and tired of life in this world, so they took off their bodies and laid them aside and went joyfully away into the next….and when Maria looked down the row (of her children) she felt she had nothing left to wish for…at least, only one thing…For sometimes in her dreams at night she stood beneath the branches of a mysterious wood, and looked down a moonlight glade, her eyes straining after something she could not see. And when she woke up, there would be tears on her cheeks because her longing had been unsatisfied. Yet she was not unhappy because of this dream. She knew that one day, when she was a very old woman, she would dream this dream for the last time, and in this last dream of all she would see the little white horse and he would not go away from her. He would come towards her and she would run towards him, and he would carry her upon his back away and away, she did not know quite where, but to a good place, a place where she wanted to be.
The last week has been very difficult for my sister and I. Our mother, who has been in long term care for several years, began to fail rapidly. On Thursday morning, she died.
We spent the week with her. My sister slept in the arm chair and I slept on the floor, on a couple of sheepskins. Both “beds” were just uncomfortable enough that we didn’t sleep too long or too deeply, listening for signs of possible distress coming from mom.
Dying is hard work. All the major life events are hard. Making new life is hard (but perhaps the most fun); giving birth is hard–it’s not called labor for nothing–but there’s a gift at the end of it. And dying is hard work.
It’s not easy to see the bright side of death. There’s no obvious reward at the end. But it is the completion of the great circle of life to quote Walt. It’s natural and normal and sad. As my sister said, it’s supposed to be sad. It’s ok to cry. And we did lots of that. But as we sat by mom, we reminisced. We told each other stories, our version of early days, each story spawning other memories. And we laughed too. Mom had an amazing life. We had an amazing Mom. Our lives are richer because of her.