There is a point near the end of your life when you know that you are going to die. You could be in a fanciful dream or on the edge of some distant shore; the waves clawing at the sand, trying to escape from themselves. Some people are so startled by the revelation of their impending doom that they sit up in their rocking chair or flinch as if they had been punched by an invisible arm. For me, I was just sitting in the garden reading in the dying light of the sun. I was not startled or jolted out of my relaxed state. In some dark part of my soul, I had known all along that the bliss of life could not continue forever.
I have enjoyed every moment of my existence. My children had grown up and had children of their own. I love all of them. Part of me didn’t want to go, didn’t want to move on, but life does not exist without death. It happens to everyone eventually. Some people are scared, while others simply accept it. I wasn’t scared nor accepting of this fate. It was just another item on the grocery list. Death. What a dark, tragic word. Yet, there is some light to it. A finality. Closure. I just hoped it wouldn’t catch me by surprise.
When the time came, I was just flipping over to page 177. I can’t remember what book I was reading at the time. I can only remember the garden. The wall separating me from reality acted as a backrest as I stroked the soft grass by my side. The smell of ripe peaches drifted aimlessly across the rows of trees. In the back of my head, they were saying my name, quietly at first, then louder and louder. It was this moment when I knew that this was it. At first, I didn’t want to believe it. After all, when the time comes, no one really wants to die. Some say they do. In fact, some bring it upon themselves before they’re ready, with a gun, or a knife, or a rope. But not me. I was simply reading by the garden wall.
As suddenly as if a cloud had moved over the sun, selfishly sucking in the last rays, a shadow moved across the wall. There was nothing that could be done for me then. No one could predict what was coming next. Part of me was frightened at first. Would it hurt? Would I go to heaven or hell? But as it puts a claw out, I was drained of all emotion. It was like a calling, a whisper in my ear, repeating the same words over and over. I cannot tell you these words for they are something only I would understand. A final statement of reassurance that everything would be alright.
But would everything be alright? Is there anything truly alright about fate or death? The claw wrapped around my hand, but for a brief moment, I resisted. Some natural instinct was pulling me back. No. I will not go away. I will not die, not yet, not now. It’s this instinct that has the final say. If a man does not die when it is his time, he is damned to the hellfire that awaits all those who fight the force. The force trying to bring you to the light. It is now when you must accept that light, now when you must accept your fate. I let go. I let go of everything, and as I did, was brought into the light.
But is this the end? No. Not quite. First came the evening of the mind. As I stood on the dock, silently gazing across the marsh, Death sat by my side. How can one like Death waste precious time with a sad old man like me? As if he could read my mind, he answered, “I must guide you, to the end, to the beginning of something new.”
People claim that before you die, your life flashes before your eyes. They’re wrong. It happens after. I saw everything. My childhood, my college years, my kids growing up at an impossible speed, my grandchildren, the cancer growing in my brain, the hospital, the surgery, the end. It all had happened too fast. When it was over, Death guided me over to the wooden boat at the edge of eternity. “Can you do it?” he asked me. I nodded. I climbed into the boat and as I rode away from shore, the water below me seemed to fall away into nothing. I saw myself by the garden wall, slumped over, empty, lifeless. My granddaughter was sitting next to me, clutching my hand as if she was trying to pull me back.
“Don’t go. Not yet. Please. Come back. Don’t you want to live, grandpa? Don’t you love me? Don’t you love me grandpa? And mama, and papa? Please come back,” she cried by my side. There was nothing I could do, not now. I was almost at the end of the journey. The water returned, but now, it shimmered in the light cast by a seemingly rejuvenated sun.
But, there was no heaven or hell. There was only me, the soft grass, the sun, and the garden wall. I placed myself next to it, stroking the soft grass by my side as I had done in life. Only now, there was no life. Only me, and as I rested in the garden, evening danced into night. Now comes the night of the mind. The stars burn violently far away, and then they stop, and everything is dark.