Edvard Munch, Death in the Sickroom, 1895

Edvard Munch, Death in the Sickroom, 1895

Two women bend over the bed. The room is dark. They stretch like dancers towards his face, reaching to touch him the way women do. A sister and a wife pour love in curving hipbones and the taut muscles of their backs. But now he must go. He must go.

The sister traces the gaunt face and skull with her fingertips. The power of the wife’s love has changed her face to a warrior angel’s. She grasps his hands, washing him in a wave of terrible love. “Oh, my beloved. It is time.” Now. Now. Now.

The thin taut face shines the way the dying often do. Breath starts, gurgles, stops. The long pause raises goose bumps on my arms. Still nothing. Still nothing. And then he breathes again. One more time. The strange breath, the sound of ending.

We sit in the muddled rhythm of his breaths as if standing in weird waves that pull at our ankles. This beach is the end of the world. We cannot imagine going farther.

And yet this drop glistens in forever, and the ocean reaches out, laughing for joy. This is its own drop, its bit of spray, its child. He went away for just an instant and now melts again into the shimmering wetness of light.

Suddenly peace. He does not breathe again. The light on the water blinds us. Through tears the rigid face glows like a holy shrine. The silence of his open mouth opens us to the joy of all love. Somewhere someone is singing alleluia.

by Jean Gendreau

copyright © by Jean E Gendreau 2016


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