The Grace of Final Days
O God! I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a King of infinite space! Hamlet, II, 2.
Marc and I just finished re-watching the entire HBO series Six Feet Under. There were a few wonky-weird episodes, but mainly it was top-notch with arguably the best TV series finale ever.
To set it up for those unfamiliar with the series, the last scene follows young Claire through her road trip to her new life in NYC, simultaneously flashing forward through time so viewers can see how all the characters end up in life and death. Somehow this little scene is as marvelous, to me, as considering Jorge Luis Borges’ Aleph—the great work of magical realism featuring the mysterious crystal in which all facets of life converge simultaneously. Yep, complex literary stuff, made simple through director Alan Ball's talent as writer/director.
I move now to a real-life experience of late, that of my vicariously witnessing the death of a 9-year-old cancer-stricken child out East, whose mother maintained a blog for friends and family. Little Vinny was more than a trooper until the end, hanging on in hospice at home for unbelievable weeks, pulling little pranks on those closest to him until he literally could move no more. “Happy Pranksgiving!” he’d said to his Mom after pretending to have died in her arms two weeks before he actually did in a few moments of sleeping solitude. His mother surmised he left within the space of those seconds she wasn't there because he just wouldn’t have been able to leave her side otherwise. Bound in his little shell of a human frame, Vinny indeed revealed himself as King of the Universe throughout his nine years of full-on bumpy ride living with cancer.
In a check-out line at the grocery store today, I surveyed the magazine rack as is my usual habit. I rarely pick up anything to read there lest I get engrossed and distracted, but today I checked out the People Magazine article on Valerie Harper. Most folks of my age know who she is. Anyway, at 73, she is dying of an inoperable brain tumor. Sadly one of my friends just lost her husband to the same thing months ago.
But Valerie Harper’s lovely face on the cover of this week’s People belies the tragic aspect of the specter of imminent death. The woman manifests peace and gratitude. I didn’t have a chance to read the article closely, but what I gleaned from it is that she is as her demeanor suggests. She's preparing herself and those who love her for transition.
Some people who know me find it strange that I think of death often enough that it could crop up as a natural topic in an otherwise everyday conversation. I really don’t think it’s too strange. I see dying as naturally intertwined with our being in this life. People know and say death is a part of this life, but for me it is an intertwining. It's because of the wisdom of spirits I carry with me, or so I like to think.
Having witnessed death through the course of my life and my work, and having lost the presence of enough family and friends to have experienced profound grief, I guess I just decided at some point that I would let the notion, just as I’ve described it, into my world and co-exist with it.
I have this little idea of how I would rather go, if I have a choice in the matter at all. I hope I look like Claire in the little clip below. Even from a distance, one is first aware of that smile, so big, beautiful, and transcendent of the shell left behind.