Breast cancer. Spreading. Brain tumors.
Three weeks of radiation. Seven weeks at rehab center. Pain crisis. One week in the hospital, Monday to Sunday, when Monica died.
We never talked about dying and death…we didn’t seem to know how. Monica was busy living life and making plans for her future work here on Earth.
On Monday, the final week, Monica took my hand and said, "I don't think I’m going to die." Then, for five days, she slept.
On Sunday, a friend played the harp and sang. Still asleep, Monica joined the singing, on her out-breath. When she finished singing, everyone in the room began to tone. A few minutes later, amidst an energy-charged silence, Monica, breathing ever so softly, died…a smile on her lips. Thus began our final journey together on this earthly plane.
At home, in our living room, a hospital bed, a few vases of flowers, a list of supportive friends ready to begin home hospice care. We believed, along with support from hospice, that we were ready to provide 24-hour care for Monica. Monica didn't make it home, alive.
During the final week, I had contacted a supportive funeral home and signed all the legal papers that would allow for a home funeral, or what we wished to call a vigil.
Monica died around 6 p.m., Sunday. I called the funeral home, but they couldn't come by that night because of another death. They promised to pick up Monica's body in the morning. This meant that her body would rest in the morgue until morning. When I expressed my concern about the harshness of this, the palliative care nurse assured me that they would provide a blanket for Monica's body. That blanket was an early sign of the beautiful care her body would receive.
Monday morning, Monica's body arrived home. Loving friends created a sanctuary in our living room. I had quickly dismantled and removed the hospital bed and oxygen machine. Friends trained in home vigils washed and purified Monica's body. I stood nearby playing a flute. We dressed her body in a new dress, one that Monica had ordered while she was still alive and planning a wardrobe for her soon-to-be new work on Earth.
The living room was transformed. It became a sanctuary of beauty. Across one wall lay Monica's body in a cardboard coffin dressed in hand-dyed silks. Underneath the coffin was a red bed cover. Carefully concealed dry ice surrounded Monica's body. The room overflowed with flowers. In one corner a large upright tree branch held origami cranes, a beloved paper art form of Monica's. Monica had worked as a Waldorf kindergarten teacher for almost twenty years. Beauty was as important to Monica as breathing.
Over the next two days, family, friends, and kindergarten families came to visit and bring their love to Monica. People wrote farewell messages in a small blank book. There was occasional singing and much conversation. Monica lay in her coffin, a sleeping beauty of peace and quiet.
In the evening hours, after visitors had left, I sat with Monica's body—sang songs, played the flute, read two children's stories that had been read to Monica during her final week's stay in the hospital. Monica loved children's stories. These two had been carefully chosen. One was of a child's special journey to a holy city. The second spoke of an old tailor's love for a special material that he continually restored as each piece of clothing, well loved and well worn, became too tattered to wear. Finally, the story itself became the eternal fabric—like Monica's life.
In the final minutes of the second day of the vigil, vodka was offered. There was singing, reciting of a poem, “A Blessing,” by James Wright, and tears.
On Thursday morning the funeral home arrived to pick up Monica's body and deliver it to a local crematorium.
I could not be at home for her departure. I walked into town and sat drinking coffee at a sidewalk cafe. When a police car drove wailing down Main Street, my thoughts were "Yes, they're going to arrest the funeral home, daring to take Monica's body away." The police car turned up a different street, however, and then I realized that death had truly come knocking on my door and grief was beginning to take hold.
Weeks later I went on a personal pilgrimage with Monica's ashes to places we had shared and loved. Using a small green cup that I had made for Monica, I spread her ashes. Weeks later I went through cards she had collected for their beauty, and found one card with the spectacular image of the sky and an aurora borealis. Underneath the image were these words: "I'm not going to die, I'm going home like a shooting star."
Best wishes my love.