The call came on Saturday morning at 6: AM. I knew what it was about before I even got to my cell phone and answered. Hospice was calling, letting me know that Agnes died a few minutes before; peacefully I was told. I was hoping to be able to be there with her when she died and I did tell her I would try, even though at the time I knew that the chances were slim that would happen. I guess it was good news that they did not call me, for that meant that she simply slipped away without any kind of struggle or distress. They have medicines now that help keep the bodies distress down, which also helps with the breathing, so there is often very little struggle at the time of death. She really needed only slight sedation, for thankfully her brain cancer did not give her painful headaches.
I saw Agnes for the last time the Wednesday before her death. She mostly slept but would open her eyes every once in a while and look at me. She gave me very little response when I spoke to her but she seemed to know it was me, for she gave me a little smile. She was so still, something she was not good at while healthy. She had a beautiful laugh that would carry, well, just about everywhere. She was a tall woman, very beautiful in her youth but as the years flew by she gained quite a bit of weight, but her vibrant personality was always intact. So now all of that was missing; death takes away everything.
She was not perfect and had her share of inner conflicts and wounds that she struggled with all of her life. At least she did for the 20 or so years that I knew her. She had a tendency to push people away whom she did not think were supportive of her, often forgetting that perhaps her friends might need her to just listen to them once in awhile. She was not malicious in this; it was just a part of her personality that she struggled with all of her life. To her credit she always fought it, though she did not always have much success. She did stick it out with her father (who from her account, gave her very little attention or care) and did what she could for him until his death; which cost her, but in the end thankful that she did not push him out of her life.
About 9 months ago she called me saying that she did not want to talk to me anymore because I was not supportive of her. I was not surprised for I knew it would happen sooner or later, for I could not always support her in ways that she wanted to be. What brought it on was something I said to her twice. She had a friend who was robbed and shot in the face. So he was having a great deal of trouble adjusting back to a normal life, which should not surprise anyone. So I recommended that when calling her friend that perhaps it might be best to just listen to him, support him and not talk about her troubles, which by the way were many. She did not understand and felt I was not listening to her, so I was another one placed outside of her life. I had mixed feelings, though there was some relief, for she did make a lot of calls to me which I had to listen to. There was also sadness, since I knew that slowly she was isolating herself, but I let it go, there was nothing to do. For I knew that in the end it was fear that drove her, something I have some knowledge of. For anger, one of my greatest struggles is rooted in fear.
She called me back three months ago and filled me in on her cancer and how long she had to live. So we reconnected and I was glad that we did. As we talked I asked her to please not push me away again, but if I should say anything that she felt was off putting, to just bring it out in the open so we could talk about it. She had only a few weeks to live and during that time, perhaps it would be good to try to not to isolate herself again.
I wanted to go back and see her the Friday before her death, but I had some kind of cold with a fever and did not want to endanger anyone living at hospice. As a result I planned on going in on Saturday, since by Friday evening I was feeling better. So that never happened and I am a little sad about that. On my last visit I only stayed for half an hour, was restless actually and found it hard to sit in a dark room with someone who was dying. So I left early. I don’t like to come face to face with my limitations, for they are many and this was a time when I saw that I in fact have little to give. I guess all I can do is to continue trying.
I felt honored that Agnes called me backed and welcomed me to walk with her on her last mile. She was very fearful at first and could not believe that her end was so close. Then some peace came and finally she told me that she was at peace and she could feel God was near. She got to be reconciled with her daughter, whom I met, and she is a lovely woman. I am so thankful that I did not have to call her after her mother’s death, for now that I have met her, I know that she would have been devastated by that. She loves her mother warts and all and we had a couple of good talks about her.
How do you sum up a life? You can’t, at least I don’t have that ability. It is hard to think of her not being here. I feel that old familiar inner void that comes with a death and I think quite possibly I am mourning more than I know. For I am not really in touch with some of my feelings, they stay hidden only poking out once in a while. I hope before I die to be able to have access to them more readily. I suppose it is fear that keeps them at bay. I sometimes think there is an ocean of unfinished mourning inside of me, not bottomless but deep none the less and as I age and lose more friends and yes family, for I have many brothers and sisters (unless I go first)…. I often think that inner ocean will only deepen. I think something many can relate to.
Bye Agnes, where are you now? My faith says one thing, and I believe that. My doubts say another thing and I am not sure I believe that at all……strange, so many different things can go on in the human soul, seeming to be at odds, yet perhaps not. I like the unknowing, it keeps things open ended. For me, doubt points to something more, not to some form of reductionism that seems so popular today. You were a mystery to me Agnes and mysteries unlike my inner ocean, are bottomless. Perhaps in that way we are made in God’s image, nameless, without form, beyond space and time, eternal. No label can contain you Agnes for you are 63 years of a mystery, a deep awareness, who suffered, loved, laughed, cried, fell and got up over and over again. Yes a work of art whose name only God knows. I hope that you are rejoicing in that name my dear and well loved friend and that your beautiful laugh fills the hallways of heaven.