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Another World

May 12, 2016

By Stephen Damon

My sister in law, whom I haven’t seen in a long time visited us last weekend. On a quiet afternoon, we began to talk about my illness, and she brought up her husband’s long battle with an inoperable brain tumor. Even though our brain illnesses were very different, we had many of the same symptoms. As she spoke about some of the things that he had encountered, I had the feeling that she was also talking about me. As our talk progressed, she focused on his last days, which I felt were a description of what lay ahead for me, and so I listened with great interest.

She told me that eventually he no longer wanted to talk and just stared out the window to the side of his bed until he finally closed his eyes for the last time. She told me that she had the strong impression that he was looking at another world, very far away. I told her that during my hospice work I often had the sense that a person who was actively dying was beginning to turn their attention to something “else” that they could see, but I couldn’t. They often would have a faraway look in their eyes as if they were looking at something that was both faraway and very close.

Like Larry, they would often just stare out the window, even when they were talking with me. During these times, I often had the sense that they weren’t leaving as much as they were going to something that I couldn’t see, but was more real to them than the difficulties they were enduring during the dying process. Sometimes, if there was no conversation and I was able to find a deeper silence in myself I would become aware of a subtle presence in the room that I imagined coincided with what they were looking at. Staying with this impression would often lead me to a point where I would lose all sense of everything, except a feeling of presence and fullness leading me to wonder if, sometimes, death was an appearing as much as it was a disappearing.

Aliza finished her story by telling me that after Larry died, she lay beside him and stared out the window to see what he had been looking at. Her voice grew very soft and I could see a tear roll down her cheek when she told me that she couldn’t see anything but the gray sky. She looked at me with deep sadness and longing and said, “There was nothing, really nothing.”

After a few minutes, I remembered a poem that I had written for a hospice resident that I had grown very close to. Digging through the loose papers of an old notebook I found it and shared it with her.

I remember our slow

Walks through the garden

Just outside your window.


Your strength was weak

So we had to walk slowly

Like monks in meditation,


Listening to the sounds

Our shoes made on

The winding gravel path


As the days went on

We walked less and less

And our conversations


Became like the whispers

Of half-forgotten dreams.

After a while you stopped talking


So you just half-smiled

As your eyes drifted out the window

To another world that I couldn’t see.

After whispering the last lines, we became very quiet and I think we both realized that a truth far greater than our words had entered the room. There was nothing else we could say so we just sat there in silence, trying to take in what had appeared as much as we could.

One Comment
  1. Richard Kleiner permalink

    Beautiful articulate moving words Stephen. Thanks
    Love you

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