|Good night, good journey, good-bye.|
My Aunt Ann kept here eyes riveted on her last surviving sister, breathing with her breath, echoing her faint sighs, the last thread that held her to life, counting them with dread lest one of them should prove her last. Like an angel at the gates she was at once eager and calm, strong and prostrate.
In the chapel down the hall the Angelus rang out; the waves of humid hospital air brought up the sound in gusts, announcing that at this hour all Christendom was repeating the words spoken by the angel to the woman who made reparations for the sins of her sex. This evening the Ave Maria came to us as a greeting from heaven. The prophecy was so sure, the event so near, that we melted into tears.
The murmurous sounds of the evening - a melodious breeze in the leaves, that last twitter of the birds, the buzz and hum of insects, the voice of waters rippling in the foyer's fountain mixing with the plaintive sobs of her loving daughter - made it sound as though all the land was taking leave of the loveliest Lily of this valley and her ribald, fun-loving humor. The religious poetry of the scene, added to all this natural poetry, so well expressed a chant of departure that our sobs began anew.
The doctor, standing by the bed, as calm as science, holding his patient's torpid hand, had signed to the priest that this sleep was the last hour of the ease in which she was sliding into death. The moment had come for administering the last sacraments of the Church she had loved so dearly.
At nine she lurched awake and looked at us in mild surprise, whether at us being there, or at her still being alive, we will never know. All she said as she smiled, was, "I shall live - but in you".
"I can die without a bitter pang if I may hear from your lips one loving word for your old aunt Shirl, saying you will forgive all that I have said to you in bitter anger, finally understanding that it was for your mother's pain I lashed out at the source of her affliction who seemed, and, I still believe, was, so mindless of his actions' effects on a loving mother's heart."
"Isn't it rather I that has forgiveness to ask?", I tearfully beseeched her, as I grasped her soft and gentle hand, "Have I not been harsh, magnified by a teen's judgmental scruples?"
"Perhaps," she replied. "But that was long ago, so be tender, my dear, to the weakness of the dying; soothe my soul with your forgiveness. Then when you are in the hour of death, you will remember that I blessed you as we parted."
The priest put his finger to his lips, at which hint the dying woman bowed her head; weakness was too much for her; she waved her hands to express that the priest was now superfluous, and begged pardon of her children, for being sometimes too rough with them, and confessed that during the past few months of her illness, she had uttered complaints, little worthy of a Christian, which might have shocked her offspring, to whom she felt she had been cold, and had at times given voice to unseemly sentiments; but she ascribed to her intolerable sufferings this want of submission to the will of God, and then acknowledged, as those leaving this life often do, the vanity of all earthly endeavors.
When she closed her eyes, we all began to pray, and within a very few moments her breathing became difficult, her body agitated, and when she opened them again, she gave me a last look, filled with sorrow, as a cloud dimmed her eyes, perhaps from hearing our sobs, and she breathed her last sigh - the last pang of a life that was oftentimes one long pain, bravely hidden by wisecracks and highballs.
This is just the latest of my personal experiences of death, but it as though I had been struck by a blow, and I sat with eyes closed yet still seeing the still expression given by the stilling of every tempest. The pallor of her face reminding me that it would never again reflect with its numberless affections and warm smiles, the love and joy it elicited from mine.
What majesty there is in that silence and coldness! How many reflections do they utter! What beauty in that perfect repose and what command in that motionless sleep! All the past is there and the future, devoid of her, has begun. I loved her as well in death as I had in life. And so, when alone, unseen, I kissed her brow with all the love she would have never allowed me to express when she lived, and said good night, good journey, good-bye.