February 8, 2014


My phone didn't even ring. It just went straight to voicemail. It must have been the clouds, heavy with snow, that prevented a clear enough signal so that my mother had to share the news into the void that is a cellphone message. I actually don't even know what the message said. I only listened to the first few choking words. Then I hung up. And called her back.

My grandmother with her two daughters and two grandaughters on Thanksgiving

My grandmother died this morning at 4am. My mom's mother. Virginia Peachin Keen. Grammy. Known by her friends as Peachy Keen.

I had been waiting for that call for several weeks. It seemed like it should have come already. But it hadn't. Thanksgiving was her last meal. My sister and I ferried her back and forth from the nursing home to my parents' home. She could put on a smile for the camera, and eat chocolate cake, but at 90, pretty much everything else hurt. After Thanksgiving, she refused to take her meds, and slept most of the day, and didn't want to eat. But said she wasn't ready to die. So she didn't. The will of a woman so frail she can't even feed herself can be undeniably strong.

A week ago things started to change. She shared a recognition that she was slipping away, and a desire to be together with family. Hand squeezing became the most reliable form of communication. Then just finger squeezing- as if milking the fingers for the comfort and solace of human touch.

Me and my sister with my grandmother this past summer

Over the past three years, I have witnessed both of my grandmothers transition from women with some physical independence into being fully dependent on caretakers and ultimately, into the state we call death. I have come to see that death from old-age requires a willingness to die. Death from old-age does not sneak up on you. You allow it to come. And when you do allow it to come, it takes you easy.

I have also witnessed how in the final stages of life, we are reduced to a more simple self. A self whose greatest gratification comes from warm and loving eyes, and when the eyes no longer see, warm and loving hands. Physical touch for a dying person is like physical touch for a well-fed baby. It's all the person wants, and all the person needs.

My grandmother had a long and beautiful life. And ultimately, it was her sorrows and burdens that have led me to lead this life here on the plateau, where creating greater connection, security, and abundance is my daily work. So I am not sure why her passing pains me so. This evening, I fell to my knees in two feet of snow and let the forest absorb my sorrows and let my tears melt the snow.

The place where life makes a bit more sense

Luna, the ewe, gave birth to a lamb this morning. One life ends, another begins. And the great circle goes on.

Sometimes it doesn't seem right that the web of life, that birth, life, death and transformation, is so simple, so matter of fact. At other times, it seems it's the only thing that I can rely on.