From Chicken Soup for the Romantic Soul

Beautiful Life—Beautiful Death

“Linda” means beautiful. How did her parents know she would have such a beautiful essence?

Today I started the morning by saying, “Don’t worry about me, love,” then immediately laughed out loud— with her. How ludicrous to imagine that Linda would not worry about me, the children she left behind, grandchildren she won’t know or even unborn millions. For the first time I understood the nature of her worrying. To worry was Linda’s way of expressing unconditional love, a love that reaches you and every living creature for now and in the future. If you knew Linda, you have felt it. She could not imagine that people might hurt others, or even lie or steal—it just was not in her being.

We meet many people in life, but few leave footprints on our heart. Linda wore spiritual clodhoppers with a velvet tread. She trampled our hearts in so subtle a way we may not notice the impact for years.

Eighteen months ago, melanoma excised from a small spot on her lower back six years earlier returned to a lymph node. We leveraged every resource at our disposal to get the finest care available, but to no avail. Despite feelings of denial, we began to prepare practically and emotionally for her likely death in the near future. In January 2002, we knew her likely life span was months. Not wasting time on regret, we seized the precious remaining time to savor our love and say good-bye. A week before she died, our children came to say goodbye— one lasting image is my young adult children curled up as if in their “jammies” on either side of Linda, cuddling with her quietly to soak up a lifetime of physical contact.

In the final days she began to slip away at home under hospice guidance. Although not in pain, she could talk only with great effort, and drifted in and out of awareness. Her sister and I sat quietly with her, reminding her of the love she had shared and the fullness of her life contribution. We found her stash of my love poems and letters over thirty years, and I read them all to her. We sat quietly for hours just holding her hand. In the evening we shared the magic of our last fire in the living room fireplace.

Her last day she slept into the afternoon, then moved into a coma of diminished awareness, eyes unfocused and cloudy, but peaceful countenance. Next came the death rattle of gurgled breathing. Alarmed, we called hospice and were told to look at her forehead and face—did she appear to be grimacing, struggling? No, not at all. We continued to calmly soothe her, hold her hands, play peaceful music, read poems, generally give her permission to leave us, as her life work was well done.

In the evening, by force of her ample will, she somehow escaped her death coma momentarily. She turned her head slightly, focused her eyes on me, moved her lips perhaps to say “Good-bye, my love.” I kissed her. She returned the kiss. She turned to her sister and shared the same poignant good-bye, then fell back to the coma. The awesome, touching moment will be in my feeling memory forever. A few hours later, assured by a visiting hospice nurse that we had done all we could, we prepared for sleep. I kissed her goodnight and assured her I would be again by her side should she need me. I fell asleep.

Suddenly only minutes later, I awakened fully, glanced at Linda and felt she had gone—her breath had stopped, her lips were pale. I called her sister and we said our final good-byes to honor her remaining aura in the vessel that had carried her awesome life. Peacefully I sat by her side. She is peaceful, held by so many hearts on a quilted cushion of love.

Linda taught me to fully live within the mosaic of all the moments of life—moments that transcend, time, space, here, there; now, then, alive, dead—significant moments richly lived whose many facets define who you are.

Strange concept, beautiful death, but I feel its meaning. I was incredibly lucky to have thirty years as Linda’s husband and to be at her side as she died. I am still learning from her. Though her physical presence has passed, my beautiful Linda will guide me for my lifetime.

Bruce Hanna

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