We decided to wait for my aunt's minister to get there before we told her. We knew his prayers would be a comfort to her. But she already knew. When I stood at her bedside she grasped my hand and said her son's name, her face contorted into a mask of mother's grief. Of course she knew her son had stopped breathing. She said, "I can't even go." I didn't understand anything else. Only that at ninety-three she is ready to go to where her son is. But her pacemaker keeps ticking as the tears roll down.
Now all the family members are flying in again. The elder sisters. The cousins of my generation. Flying in from Jamaica and Florida and Canada, driving up from Virginia and Maryland and New Jersey, coming to pay their last respects to a man who often drove us to distraction, but who we loved. We loved him. He was ours. And now he is gone, waiting perhaps to welcome his mother to the place where he has gone, where he understands everything, even the weight of my self-righteousness at some of his earthly actions, and the weight of my guilt at never having acknowledged that he had, toward the end, begun to change. At Aunt Winnie's birthday party a month ago, I watched his grandsons, ages 5 and 3, climb his limbs as if he were a tree, and him indulging them with a wonder and joy he had never been in touch with when his own children were small. They brought something out in him. Something tender and good. I saw it, but I failed to say.
He was also reconciling with his ex wife at the end. They had begun to pray together, she said. They had started to make plans. She sobbed and sobbed after she found him on Friday morning. Sudden death. But he was in a good place when he died. His daughter says he looked peaceful. He had talked for a long time with my mother on the Sunday before. He told her that he was not so bitter anymore. He had even forgiven his sister, the one who is still out there in the streets, lost in a cocktail of substances. The rancor he felt toward her was gone, he told my mother. Now he just felt sad for her. And wanted her to get well. He was in a good place. As tender and good a place as I had ever seen him. The Buddhists say we are to treat each person as we would if we knew it was their last day on earth. I wish I had said. But I didn't, so I am saying it now.
Painting "Blood and Wings" by Michael Kessler