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Bone Structure

The Mill, by Andrew Wyeth, 1959 

"I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure in the landscape — the loneliness of it — the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn't show."

— Andrew Wyeth 
The Art of Andrew Wyeth 

Opal died today. Unexpected. 

It’s always a surprise to me, though we are in a nursing home and nearly everyone is ill and elderly. 

There's not much talk, as if it is routine, and of course it is. And yet, even when expected, every passing feels fresh and unexpected. I haven't found words for this startle and weight — something like sadness but with a puncture that lodges in remote crevices of body and mind.  

While hanging the memorial announcement, Ada watches my every move, watches me hang the board, watches me straighten the frame. She does not speak, never speaks. But today, her eyes are steady and from her wheelchair, she reaches for my hand. I bend close and talk quietly.

“Your hair looks nice,” I say. She stares at me, eyes soft.

I try again, “You look good in pink.”

She murmurs, her eyes fixed on mine, as if to speak. But we do not talk, just look into eyes, back and forth, with some tender wordless exchange. 

I say goodbye, I’ll see her again, because this is what you say. Because I say it again and again to the old and confused, to the dying. We are accustom to goodbyes and yet, and yet, it always jolts. Maybe I’m not alone in this. Maybe Ada is with me, reaching out to mark a moment, saying every death deserves a pause.  

I've started a file: Things to say after a death. There's been so many, I've run out of words. 

In the writing group, we pen letters to ourselves:

Dear Younger Me, writes Betty, I wish I could go back and appreciate life more

“Can I get you anything?” I ask Lucy, who is sitting alone, yawning.

We exchange hellos and she smiles wanly, a sign of her decline. Once buoyant and cheery, she now speaks slowly, if at all, and with much effort. 

“There’s no getting,” she says with a half smile, and I think she knows, more than any of us, about these ends.  


* Names have been changed to protect privacy.

Reader Comments (6)

I think this is an entire book or something. In any case I thank you. Just saw my mother today. Oh the struggles with language:( and still the wise and true things that come out along with the balderdash. xoxox.

January 17, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

You get it, you do. You're in it, too.

These small moments feel meaningful and more 'real' when I write it out, write it through.

Death seems to be my topic these days -- both personally and professionally -- and I often worry that I'm sharing too much --- but your note is balm to my concern. Thank you. xxoo

January 17, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDrew

Beautiful, as always, Drew. I spend Wednesdays with my Mom (she's 85) - shopping, bookkeeping, etc. Every week I wish I had done it better/said it better somehow. And every week I try again. It's sad and hard - and Lucy is so right. There really is no getting.

Thank you for sharing, Drew. They are needed. <3

January 17, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterTrish

Thank you. So nice to see you here.

You put it so well: "Every week I wish I had done it better/said it better somehow. And every week I try again." That's exactly it.

Press on, friend, with love.

January 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDrew

How lucky Ada was to have you as one of her caregivers, Drew. May we never become so accustomed to death that we are not jolted when it comes.
Love to you.

January 19, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMaureen

Hi Maureen,
So nice to see you here. Thank you for the kind words.

Really, I'm the lucky one. I'm not a nurse (that's the really hard work) but I work in communications and get the enviable opportunity to dip in and out of the lives of others. It really has changed my life; sounds dramatic, I know, but it's true.

January 19, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDrew

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