Dying to Live


by Von Rowan


I was not afraid to die, having already done it once. When I was twenty-six, I bled to death, the result of a miscarriage. There had been simply a painless drifting away as nurses frantically cut off my clothes and covered me with dripping towels, and a panicked voice—“Open your eyes, Yvonne!  Wake up!… Open… your….”—faded to black.

Some time later, I became aware of no longer being in my body, a literal sense of release—no longer a prisoner in the flesh, sentenced to hell on Earth. I had lived in a state of shock. Life stunned me with its injustices, its pain, its cruelties. Often I stumbled through my days on automatic pilot, while inside I huddled in a fetal position in a deep, dark corner collecting mental and emotional dust; and the ghost of Poe’s raven drove me ever deeper, taunting me with his whispers, “Never good enough. Never good enough.” I wondered if we would still mourn for our dead if we knew death was the end of a prison sentence—and suicide an attempt to escape.

Suddenly, I had been set free.

And there came a dazzling light and an unyielding sense of peace and love. A voice that was not a voice commanded me, “You must go back. It is not your time.”

I resisted, arguing with (God?) in vain. I was, in the end, sucked back into my body.

Death, for me, had been a pleasant experience.

Now I remembered these things and was not afraid. I knew I was dying—again. My family and friends knew I was dying.  Soon. We were by now resigned to it.

Pervasive weakness conquered the last remnants of strength, and I could barely lift my hand. Agonizing pain gripped me relentlessly, but at least the violent vomiting and nausea had abated. A heart attack followed too closely by acute gall bladder and liver disease had left me within days of death.

Listlessly I looked at my mother standing in the dim room next to my bed. Her steel-gray hair was tousled. Tears oozed from her clear blue eyes and coursed down her pale, smooth cheeks.

“Are your affairs in order?” Her soft voice tried too hard to be steady. “Are there any arrangements you need to make?”

I had made no arrangements for anything. I hadn’t planned on dying, and it was too late now. I hadn’t the strength to even think about it, never mind get out of bed to see a lawyer about writing a will, or making funeral plans.

“No,” I answered.

My granddaughter stood next to her: the joy of my life, the one I lived for. I’d raised her from the day she was born, my namesake, Jericka Yvonne. My daughter had been a mere child at her birth and was now lost in her own hell into which I could not reach. Jericka and I had become as close as any two people could be. We could read one another without words—she, peering over the ledge of pubescence, breasts straining to bud, promising eventual full-bloom, full life—and I, life-weary and worn beyond willingness.

I stared at the jelly-jar glass stuffed with the dandelion bouquet she had brought me earlier—and remembered another day, the day she had taught me about dandelions.

Was it last spring or the spring before? We walked along our road, flanked by Picasso-splashes of spring flower colors. Jericka was enthralled by their abundance, needing to know the names of each one—“What kind is this, Nana? And that one? And, ooh, that purple one over there, what’s it called?”—burying her nose in some to absorb the sweet fragrances.

We came to a field carpeted in eye-shattering yellow. “I want a yard just like that,” she declared, “with lots and lots of dandelions.” When I told her most people consider them to be weeds, she scoffed. “How could people think such a beautiful flower could be a weed!”

Gently plucking a fully blooming dandelion with one hand and a lollipop of fluffy seed with the other, she studied them intently for a moment before wanting to know how one became the other. Satisfied with my brief explanation, Jericka-the-imp, with her sideways grin and flirting eyes, blew the seed into my hair. “You look like the baby chicks!” We laughed: Our chicks were molting and looked like harassed little cartoon warriors with their cottony down poking out in every direction….

…I would miss her—her honest simplicity, her fresh view of life. I looked into her Van-Dyke brown eyes, fringed with thick black lashes.

She knows, I thought. I could see it in her face. She didn’t believe it until now… but now she knows I’m dying.

I’ve never seen anyone look so lost. Eight years old and wondering, “What will happen to me? Where will I go when you’re gone, Nana? Who will love me then?” She spoke not a word with her mouth, but every fear, every question, every pain was written clearly in those soul-deep eyes and trembling lips.

Her anguish pinched my heart, eclipsing my own pain. My love for her filled my soul, and an irresistible yearning replaced my resignation. I prayed.

“Dear God, You know I’m not afraid to die. But I love this child so much. She needs me. She has no one else who will care for her like I do. To the world I may be a weed, but to her I’m a dandelion. Please, for her…let me live.”

I used to work in the medical field, so I know how much difference the will to live can make—and the importance of something to live for. I wonder, though, how often we confuse the will to live with feeling worthy to live.

Life still stuns me with its dark side.

But I live—and I am not afraid.