It’s been a tender week. This week marks the first anniversary of the death of my dear friend, E, who left the earth plane suddenly and unexpectedly, just two weeks after her 61st birthday. I made it to the North Carolina hospital on Easter Sunday and had the profound honor of witnessing her transition on Monday.
E was semi-conscious; she had been intubated and medicated. I felt she was already circling the other realms. When I reached the side of her bed and placed my hand on her arm, she opened her eyes and looked directly at me, acknowledging my presence as huge, big tears spilled down her cheeks – and my cheeks, too. She knew I was there.
You see, we had been through another medical crisis together ten years earlier when I had been called to the Mayo Clinic and had fought — as her health care proxy — the powers-that-be to honor E’s directives. Counter to their predictions, E had made it through with flying colors.
That Sunday, I shivered in the ICU room where they had E’s fevered self on a cooling bed and the rhythm of the ventilator hissed its percussive whoosh. I looked at my friend’s sweet face and told her I had just read a piece about many souls exiting the planet and some were heading to Mars to help the galaxy. That sounded just like my pal, E. She was a woman of service, a woman of spirit, and a woman of super-expanded consciousness – a highly evolved soul. I told her I had great confidence that she would be making a galactic difference.
On Monday morning, as indicated by E’s directives, I signed the requisite papers to extubate, that is pull out the ventilation tube, which, in effect, pulls the plug on the ventilator (aka the breathing machine) and life ends. Of course, that was what they said ten years ago at Mayo and once they pulled out the tube, E, to the surprise of all, never stopped talking. This time was different.
I agreed to the morphine as I did not want her to struggle at all. Her lungs were severely compromised. One nurse administered the dose; the second witnessed the act and both left the room for what I later realized was 15 minutes. During those 15 minutes, I counted each of her uneven breaths, every inhale, every exhale. The nurses returned, took E’s vitals, shook their heads, and marked the time on her chart. It was 10:15 a.m. — one minute sort of here, the next minute gone. E didn’t suffer. She had already left her body.
Speaking of bodies, a week later, the postman handed me the box knowing what the contents held. I was surprised at the heft. It was heavier than I had imagined. The box was tightly wrapped in plastic tape, it was practically sea-worthy. It took a great deal of huffing and puffing on my part to break through the wrapping to uncover a thin, black, plastic box — deeper than a fat paperback novel — that held a clear plastic bag full of E’s gray-white “cremains,” i.e., the bone shards and ashes, including the ashes of the pressed wood box in which she was cremated.
On one of my return trips to North Carolina, I felt guided to scatter some of E’s ashes in the courtyard garden of her home that we were trying to sell. I open the aforementioned baggie, and, before I knew it, was wrist-deep in E. I had E dust everywhere. My clothes were hand-printed as if I had been baking break instead of parceling out E for North Carolina. I inhaled E. I tasted E for hours. Talk about communion, this was more than I intended. I had to laugh.
E’s death has radically graced my life. This past year has been a game changer. My responsibilities to dissolve the business of her life and the attendant experiences, interactions, and conversations have stretched and opened me in ways I never would have expected. Would you laugh if I told you I feel more grown up? I am more soulful. And, boy howdy, do I understand the power of generosity to change the non-profit institutions as well as individual lives that were her beneficiaries.
There is a Latin phrase, in requiem, vita, which means “in death, there is life.” I think the phrase is referencing life after death, but for me, E’s death has given me life. Her death rebooted my system, elevated my consciousness, and widened my heart. I think that would make her happy.
And E, if you happen to glom on to the energy of my thoughts from your galactic perch, thanks, my friend. You are the gift that keeps on giving.
Adele R. McDowell