Tag Archives: clinging to life

When It’s Time to Die

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops how she wants to die peacefully, in a garden

Not too long ago, at some unnoticed and now unidentifiable moment, I reached the point beyond which it could be remarked that, “She died before her time.” It got me thinking.

When it’s “my time” I want to be carried outside and laid in the sun, in a bed of day lilies and soft grasses. Wrap me in a blanket of hasta leaves. Amid birdsong and the sweet scents of lilac and honeysuckle, I want to be surrounded by friends sipping wine. We will all say our goodbyes, but I will stubbornly cling to life; there will be no dying peacefully in the garden for me.

The first time I met my friend’s father he proudly showed me his garden. He was already old then, and the vegetables and vines were growing greater than he could handle. He gardened and lived ambitiously. And eight years later, when it was his time to die, this old man kept going on and on, six days without food or water, relatives pouring in from all over the country, multiple moves from hospital to hospice-at-home. During the waiting, from 400 miles west, I sat picking spent buds off the plant my friend had left me. Deadheading, she’d called it. Trying to imagine the flowers and grasses endlessly going on, growing without me, I considered this dying, this idea that someday, now sooner rather than later, I will be dead.

I, like the old man, will take my time leaving. I’ll make pretty plans for my death, create a perfect day to die, and then grab every last moment I can to continue living. Even if I’m stuck in a dreary hospital bed tucked away from the beautiful bustling world.

My friend, sitting vigil, took photos of her father, half in this world and half out, photos of his hands holding her hand. When she finally crept back into town, exhausted, we sat over whiskeys, hardly whispering just a few words. She handed me her iPhone to see the multiple pictures of their entwined hands. They both had gardeners’ hands. Sturdy calloused hands that displayed lifetimes of pulling at thorny weeds and tamping down moist soil around fragile seedlings.

Daily now, I remind myself: We are born. We live. We die. And in that middle part, as I go about the living, all the brutal and beautiful living, I want to consciously consume every second.

How do you want to die? What is dearest to you in your life?

Clinging to Life

Robin Botie of ithaca, New York restores a 75 year-old photo by Lorstan Photography Studios of her aunt, Bertha Spector of Brooklyn.Some people cling to life like a scab clings, by mere threads, to an old wound. And some hold fast to every moment grabbing celebrations, laughter, moonlit nights, magnificent meals, the here of the sun, the now of friends. I used to shake my head, grumbling that my daughter was living like she had only an hour left. Then she died. “How will I live the rest of my life?” I wondered. It’s a good question to ask periodically.

Four years later I’m still aware of my season of hailstorms, the two-month period from my daughter’s deathday on March 4 to Mothers’ Day. In between those dates fall my birthday and Marika’s, the first day of spring, Easter and Passover. All are opportunities to wallow in misery and close off the world. Brain nausea sets in every year as I try to sort out what this deathday really means and how I should commemorate it. What keeps coming up is my Aunt Bertha. The aunt I adored as a child lost her husband on her birthday over fifty years ago. She kept to herself for over half a century, feeding on little other than her immense sorrow. So I have a familial model for how to live in grief. Only, that is not living; it is dying a very slow death.
I used to wonder, no, to be honest it used to bug me: how come she got to live? As much as I loved my aunt, her heart was dead and buried with her husband long ago. Why was she still schlepping around in her mid-nineties while Marika didn’t even get to see twenty-one?

Last week, in a rainstorm, we buried my Aunt Bertha in a cemetery in New Jersey, next to her husband. Nine of us huddled under umbrellas, taking turns shoveling rich red soil onto the lowered coffin. The ceremony lasted about fifteen minutes. And then we climbed into our seven cars and went home.
For me it was a five-hour ride. I thought of how, when I was a kid, I was afraid to use telephones except to call my Aunt Bertha. I remembered the jewelry she used to give me, visiting her in Brooklyn, and the candy-salesman husband who made her smile. She bought me my first camera.

The rainstorm followed me back to Ithaca. When I got home, clumps of soil still clung to my black boots, rich and red.


What does a life well lived mean to you?