Today’s post is a little different. It was written as a reply to a message from my niece, Abby. She calls me “A.P.” Attached to her message was a link to an article that had brought her to tears. She wanted to share it with someone, and happily, she chose me. It is a beautiful article from “Esquire” Magazine about Roger Ebert and the challenges he is facing with extraordinary courage, equanimity, and wit. Please read it first. Find it at:
It’s hard for me to type right now, having just finished reading the article because my tears are blurring my vision as I look at the keyboard. Since I associate Ebert so much with Siskel, I was starting to wonder when they were going to mention Gene Siskel – someone whose opinions I also treasured, enjoyed, or differed with completely, just like Roger Ebert’s! It was so good to read of their deep, abiding friendship, as well as their different approaches to impending death. I always read their reviews, mainly because they gave you more insight on the makers of the movies than just the actors. The “creators” (see my blog 🙂 ) are more important than anyone in the film process, in my opinion, and I have learned so much about that aspect of film from both Gene and Roger.
Ebert’s illness is ineffably sad, but ultimately joyful – in his own way he has been able to acknowledge the beauty of living, the wistfulness of its impending loss, and a certainty of continuity in some form or other. I do regret his ambivalence or agnosticism concerning God, but mainly because I believe that “sure and certain hope” would bring a measure of comfort to both him and Chaz (what a fantastic woman), and it seems, at least I infer that from the article writer – there go those hermeneutics again – that something is missing in his own resignation to death. This is not to say he is afraid. He most certainly is not, and I do agree with him (to a degree, because who wants to see him die?) that it is time to let go of the whole medical process, and cling instead to the acts of getting his love of life down on paper, or in his manufactured voice, and expressing his love of and to family, friends, and his many fans. He seems to be both a proud and a humble man, in the appropriate quantities of each, with enough wit to temper both.
I remember many years ago having the opportunity – indeed, the blessing – of hearing the Chief of one of the Native American Nations in New England speak at a conference. He was a wonderful, highly spiritual man and spoke with great humility. One of the things he said that still remains in my memory was, “We as humans, of all creation are most blessed, because we know that we are going to die.” That knowledge offers us opportunity each day to live as though there is no tomorrow here on earth. Why does it seem so often that we have to come so near to death to acknowledge the beauty and the regrets of life? I have always envied those who are able to discuss their life without regret for the mistakes and blunders they have made, and the hurts and pain they have caused to others and to Creation as a whole. I hope that at my end I will be able to come near to expressing as beautifully as Roger Ebert the preciousness of my life, my friends, and most of all,(for me), my Savior. Why is it so hard to forgive yourself, even knowing, at least intellectually, if not in your heart, that God loves and treasures you just as you are, no strings attached? My prayer is that at my end I will be able to voice to God my undying love for the gift of life and eternity, and the fact that I have forgiven myself all my trespasses, even as God has forgiven me.
I know my comments about this article and Roger Ebert are maudlin and most likely overstated (as always, I tend to speak [or write] first and think later), and I want you to know how much I appreciate you sharing this wonderful article and tribute to an extraordinary and interesting man.
One more thing, as my last word, and about last words: a little more than a month before my Daddy died, before hospice, when he was still at the hospital in Keene, as I left him in order to drive back to Tennessee, I said, “Please Daddy, don’t go away. Please be here when I come back.” He just smiled. When I came back, it was my job to get him transferred to hospice care, as Mom, in the early stages of AD, was not able to make a decision, and seemed not to understand the imminence of his death. When he got to hospice (he was only there for about 10 days), I sat beside him, esp. on the two Sundays I believe he was there, and sang hymns that I knew were his favorites. That first time I leaned over him just before I left for the day, and said, “Daddy, you know that God loves you.” The last word he spoke to me, with a very slight nod of his head, was a whispered “Yes.” He smiled and closed his eyes. Shortly after that he was semi- or fully comatose and we did not speak together, but I sure spoke to him a lot – mostly about the fact that he didn’t seem to want to fight as much as I wanted him to. He was probably right in his decision, and I ended up being the one to allow the Drs. to cease giving him anything but morphine, and to stop any life-lengthening measures. Mom was not able, again, to make the decision.
Mom’s last words to me were something I will treasure for as long as I live: She had been virtually incommunicable for some time, and had that awful empty, blank look on her face that is so typical of AD, and says that “nobody’s home.” I was sitting with her in the common room of the nursing home. I was holding her hand, having just finished giving her a manicure, because I couldn’t think of anything else to do. All of a sudden something came into her eyes and showed up on her face – expression that had been missing for a long time. “I said, Mamma, what are you thinking about?” She turned her head away for a moment, and I repeated my question. She then turned her face toward me, looked straight into my eyes, and said “Love one another.” I started crying, and the empty look returned to her face. But God had been speaking through her as surely and real as anything I have ever witnessed first-hand. Those were her last words to me, and are burned into my memory. I probably wrote this in my blog – I don’t remember – it leaves my mind as soon as it gets on the computer, and I generally don’t re-read what I write except to make corrections or edits (and few of those edits!). Both God and my Mom had given me a gift, a beautiful gift, and one of the greatest I have ever received.
Oh! One more thing – 😀 – on one of Johny Carson’s last broadcasts, Bette Midler was a guest, and she sang a song that still makes me laugh. It was entitled “I Regret Everything!” I wish I could remember the words, and have not been able to bring up the video on YouTube or anywhere else, to date, but she mostly just enumerates in a very funny and endearing fashion, all the things she regrets about her life. It SO reminded me, and still does, of myself. But, in reality, there are many things I do not regret, and among those are our special relationship (even if only largely by e-mail or FB). Take care, darlin’. Keep keeping me in your loop, keep knitting, and thinking, and learning. Keep on keeping on. Love, AP