Is there anything so merciful as a simple ending?
A natural, (by which i mean simple, by which i mean unjarring, unresisted, supported, painless, held and timely) death is a thing of beauty.
My grandmother, Bill Coe’s mother, has just passed away.
I don’t normally use that term, passed away, because that’s not usually how people go.
But she, a century old and in good health, did.
She was a hundred and I respected her for her longevity and her consistency. She had, years ago, resolved to live longer than her aunt who had lived til she was ninety-nine.
Her stubbornness courses through my veins.
She was so good at correspondence and Scrabble and being oversensitive and predictable. On Sundays she went to church. I used to think she mostly liked the community there, but now I see it was the sturdiness of it. Crisp, wool clothing. I like to think it was partly the ritual that took her there.
When she was only in her eighties, she used to go on frequent adventures alone. Big trips even. These haven’t happened since her nineties began so i’ve forgotten all about them until now, and it’s a nice remembering. There was always ivory soap at her house. She was very sensitive, in skin and in sentiment and this sensitivity often caught me off my guard.
She would go to the gardens at the legislative grounds when she didn’t have a garden of her own and would do the weeding there. I think they gave her some honorary award for her work even. She was only ninety-three then.
If you know the rest of my family and their complete and utter disregard for stability, you would see that these are hefty compliments that i am throwing around: stable, predictable, consistent are a pretty big deal.
I didn’t realize she was that tough, but you don’t go around living for a century without some pretty powerful heartiness. I am thankful that this kind of woman was the root system set down in my family because I sense that that is where the feeling of sturdiness despite other malfunctions in a bloodline comes from, at least in part.
The roots remain.
What i’ve been especially feeling about lately, is that if we just do our work, like really take the opportunity to do the work we’re offered this life, have some fun, be steady in ourselves, take some rest, let our guts guide us, feel the sunshine on our faces, be in winter when it’s winter, summer, spring, be in fall, hold onto nothing, but be fully in the thick of it, observe nature, be quiet and still and solitary, be among people, listen, that is to say: be,
that we fall into our place among things.
We die when we’re meant to die and we live when we’re meant to live.
I like not having to question this.
The other morning, a Canada goose, very freshly returned from his winter trip, sat up on top of that billboard at the forks that towers humongously over the wooden foot bridge, the one that lets you walk across the Assiniboine River and feels so good underfoot.
He honked his heart out, was looking for someone. My heart breaks for lone geese, lone anything. I don’t even like to leave one fork in the cutlery tray. I know.
From the billboard mural, a hand reaches up out of the paint to touch him, assuring him of his place in things.
Seeing the beauty of that moment, his loud lonesomeness; the sound of longing, and this big picture of his belonging whelmed me.
Instinct brought him here. Instinct would carry him back to his companions. Or it would find him a new tribe. He would find his place in the family of things.
I don’t know what this has to do with my grandmother’s passing, but it has something to do with it. Maybe that sometimes nature feels actually natural and painless at the same time. Maybe that there is a family of things that we all belong to in our different, weird way. And maybe that things will shake out just right (whatever that means), painlessly, effortlessly, when we listen to the tiny but substantial echoes that call to us from that low, hollow place in our guts.
For the words below, recorded long ago, the context forgotten, and for the cycle of life that is so unshakeably evident and huge and holding, and for a strong woman who lived and died well…
For these things and all of the others in the family of things, my heart is humble and thankful today.
“If we listen to the world, and let it act on us without either-or judgements and ideas,
then we can learn to comprehend each flash of pleasure as a tone in the infinite harmony.
The orchestra of the world plays the familiar melodies again and again,
and the old folks stand around and tap their feet while the young ones dance.”