Sunday, September 13, 2009

Eternally grateful

Last weekend Grandson Ben came up to spend the three-day weekend with me. In the evening, we walked up to the waterfall to stand in the cool twilight and watch the bats fly over our heads. The mountain has been serene and quiet since the Forest Service closed the trails to hikers. Those of us who are residents are especially blessed during these times, as the threat of fire diminishes and the local wildlife quickly takes over the space the campers and hikers had occupied. On Sunday evening, Ben and I stood and watched a young fox down by the falls, then saw a baby king snake on our way home. And more bats, of course.

All of this was a comfort to me. My brother Dan had gone into hospice on Thursday. His cancer had spread to so much of his body that he was in constant pain. In hospice, he could be on IV drugs. Our last conversation had taken place some days before. I’d called in the evening just to check on him. He was tired and, as we talked, he climbed into bed with his cat, Wilson. “Yeah, move over, cat,” he said gruffly, but I knew he was scratching Wilson’s head or stroking his fur as he said it. From his boyhood days, Dan has always adored animals, and we once had a conversation about how dogs were just people wearing other ‘suits.’

When Dan entered hospice care, I sent emails and Facebook postings out to as many people as I could, asking them to pray for him or chant for him or send positive energy or simply think loving thoughts for him, so that his passing would be easy. That was my prayer. That his passing would be peaceful. I told my cousin I just wanted Dan to “float off on our love.”

On Sunday evening, my other brother, Kevin, flew to Washington to be with Dan. He said he felt compelled to do so. Monday morning dawned beautiful and clear on the mountain. Ben helped me and for hours we cleared brush and cut branches. Apparently my phone had been ringing, but I didn’t hear it.

That morning, a harpist came into the hospice room with Dan. She asked Kevin if she could play her harp for Dan, and of course Kevin agreed. A nurse was in the room as well, and when the harpist began to play, she reported that Dan’s heart rate and respirations were slowing down, calming. She said he must like music because he was responding positively, and he was “peaceful.” The nurse left the room. When she returned ten minutes later, Dan was gone.

Since Dan’s passing, I’ve been walking up to the waterfall every evening, just to sit and listen to the water rushing as it has for hundreds of years. Wordsworth told his sister that, in times of trouble, she should consider the immutability of Nature, how a forest glen or a meadow or a stream could remain the same through the turmoil of countless generations, through war or feast or famine. It was the unchangeable character of Nature that he held onto when the world itself seemed to tilt out of alignment. And thus it is with me.


  1. Kay, I am so sorry for your loss. I wish you strength and serenity in this difficult time.

    I'm glad your brother chose hospice. I have volunteered with our local hospice; thus, I have high respect for this end-of-life option. And I have read about musicians who volunteer to play for people facing death. I would want that myself.

    I am sorry you have lost someone close to you. I share the view that Nature is a constant, reliable source of comfort and I'm glad that you are in a place where that is available to you. (The photos in your blog are stunning.)

    As an animal lover, I must ask: Has someone adopted Wilson? Like Dan, I would want my cats nearby at the end of my life.

    Take care, Kay.

  2. JP, thanks for your warm thoughts. Dan's life-long friend, Champ White, has been staying in Dan's house, caring for Wilson and looking for the right home for him. He will make sure that Wilson's new home will be a good one. Thanks again for your kind words and thoughtfulness.