There was no incident nor sirens. No sympathetic voice on the phone sharing pain or platitudes of comfort. The news was transmitted not to me, but my wife. An impersonal text from an estranged sibling across an ocean and through the buffer of a six-hour time differential, (preferred protocol when one has estranged siblings).

We left Barb behind us when we moved to Europe six months before she died. It was becoming clear to me that she was losing the will to continue living and fighting as our departure drew near. For her, watching her body fail her was just another slight. Watching her youngest son, her favorite daughter-in-law and only grandson all leave her to start a new life far away confirmed what she knew was soon coming. I had forced the timeline upon her. Defeated, tired, and now betrayed yet again, she resigned, declining to reinvent her life one last time. This is how we die in stages. We accumulate enough gut punches, betrayals, and hardships until one day we stop advocating for ourselves to ourselves. This standard-issue internal narrative keeps us strong for most of our lives, but when we stop fighting, it’s the beginning of the end.

And this is how it ended, “Honey, I have some bad news I need to tell you.”

I had just awoken, my eyes not opened, still in bed with the covers to my chin. The
December air was cold and I was relishing the warmth of the comforter, feeling the cold in the tip of my nose. The words came just as I was just beginning to construct the day in my head and then, my wife’s voice gentle, but persistent, “Honey…”

The news put all of us on our backs for most of the day, our physical energy instantly depleted as Barb’s new finality demanded our attention and affirmation. Life came into focus in her death, as clouds rolled in to cover the lake outside our window, silently creating a slow-moving and surreal stream of haunting beauty as we lay out on rented chateau couches too numb to move.

Was she in any way present in the beauty of those clouds as she eased from life to death? Or was I simply projecting some momentary spirituality upon the scene outside my window as I wrestled to find some comfort, any comfort in her passing?