Monday, March 29, 2010

a beautiful death

The fantastic blog, Letters of Note published recently this amazing letter by Laura Huxley, wife of Aldous Huxley, chronicling in great detail the author's death. She also covers his attitudes about drug use, philosophy, and art while trying her best to give her husband "a beautiful death." She also wrote about her husband's death in The Timeless Moment.


It is a moving letter and a reflection of how very different the sixties were. Reading it also brought back echoes of my mother's mother, Grand’mére's, death. I was in my Park Slope Brooklyn apartment watching television one evening when I got the call from my mom, who lived with my grandmother in Florida. It was time, she said. My grandmother, just a year short of 90, had had a series of strokes over the past few years and the latest had left her bedridden.

I visited Grand’mére in Florida for the first time when I was fourteen years old. It was my first solo travel, first solo trip on a plane. It was a great visit. She took me to fabulous lunches with her friends, showing me her world, which was quite different from my teenage life back in New Jersey with my family. Over the years I would visit as often as I could, on breaks from college in New York, and continued to go whenever I would get a break from work. When my parents split up my mom headed down to Florida. Grand’mére's home was her port in a storm. She ended up moving in with her permanently when Grand’mére's husband Paul became ill and they needed help. After Paul died, my mother and grandmother spent some very companionable time together, traveling, etc. As Grand’mére started to become frail, it was wonderful for her to have my mother there, as well as a much-needed day nurse, so that my mother could get out and about and get a break.

As I spoke that summer evening with my mother on the phone, she described what Grand’mére was going through. How her legs were gradually turning purple. She was telling her, over and over again,  that she loved her, and that I loved her, and that my brother loved her, and that she had been a wonderful mother. She told her it was O.K. to let go, that we would be all right. We stayed on the phone for about an hour or so. There was a pause and then she quietly told me that she was gone. We cried a bit together on the phone. We both knew that we had shared an amazing passage with Grand’mére. Then we said we loved each other and hung up, as my mother had some other calls to make, as the business of death was about to begin.

Laura Huxley's letter reminded me of that beautiful death.

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