This summer I hope to visit the place I scattered my mom’s ashes 26 years ago, near the foot of Neahkhanie Mountain on the Oregon coast. Standing in the wind above the sea, I will be sure to remember this Hopi Prayer.
“Do not stand at my grave and weep. I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow. I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on the ripened grain. I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning hush, I am the swift uplifting rush
of quiet birds in circle flight. I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry. I am not there. I did not die.
My Spirit is still alive.” – Hopi Prayer
How striking, how strange, that I was to speak with you for the last time, in the middle of my own birthday party. I thought you were calling to wish me a happy birthday. How childish and small I felt, once I realized – as if I had been struck by lightning or a god-like hammer – that you had called to tell me of your decision, that you had lifted your old-fashioned phone from its cradle and fingered ten numbers on its rotary to say goodbye.
You being you, I really should have known you would not choose to spend the rest of your life bound to a chair by cancer. You were always so headstrong, always going somewhere, always with a voracious appetite for experiencing life. You had such an infectious zest for the world with its multitudes of things to do and know. The old photographs reveal what a knockout you were in youth. No wonder you had so many husbands. Oh yeah, and you did an assisted skydive at age 75, and sent me that photo of it. On the back of the picture, you wrote “So what did you do last Sunday?”
Slipping from my seat down to the floor, I could still hear laughter through the walls, through the door I had pushed all the way closed. The festive mood of those who had accepted my invitation trickled through my awareness, overshadowed by the urgency of unexpected shock.
My hand grew wet around the phone as you made it quite clear you were doing assisted suicide. You told me not to argue with you about it, or try to change your unchangeable mind. After all, things were only going to get worse. Dialysis would only prolong your life, not restore any quality to it. A magnetic force pushing us apart, your determination on one side and my reluctance on the other. Our farewell words were exchanged, and that was it. The doctor would come to your apartment and drop the tablet into your martini. I would not be there. You would say your very last words to my sister, who would report them to me later: “Here’s lookin’ at you, kid”.
I didn’t cry then, of course. It needed to be processed, and there was an entire room full of people waiting for me to reappear, beginning to wonder if I’d just pulled a Bilbo Baggins. Eventually I broke my ten-mile stare and took a deep breath. Making my way back to the party, my brain directed a smile to display itself on my big dumb face. I re-entered the situation like a finely-trained actor and blew out the candles.