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Into that good night

Updated: Sep 29, 2022

A Christmas to summon the light.

The Christmas light in Quiberon, Bretagne

Christmas speaks of birth, but all around us is talk of death and dearth.

There is a dearth of tolerance and acceptance, of goodwill to all mankind regardless of beliefs. While world governments "wage war" on a virus, division and discord pave our road to destruction.

Still, in the darkest hour, the light may be revealed.

Is not all we feared in death just another birth?

My mother passed away two weeks ago, on 11/12/2021. It did not make the nightly news, nor did I share it as such. She had suffered through seven years of Alzheimer’s disease. Those who love her have lost her twice: first her mind, then her body. Her body was tough. She even bucked Covid in 2020. Had she known what was going on in the world, she would have lost her mind or worried herself to death. Perhaps it was better she had already lost it.

I crossed the ocean and made it to her deathbed in a nick of time. She passed exactly 24 hours after my arrival, and I was able to spend her final five hours alone with her. This is the way I wanted it to be.

I am eternally grateful to Lisa, my saint of a sister, who cared for her at home over the past five years, even in the arduous final month when my mom was bedridden. I am also grateful to my dear Marielle, who knew even from far away what words I needed to speak.

My mother’s body now rests next to my father, who died exactly nine years before her. What should be her epitaph? In a twinkling of an eye, it flashed into my mind just after her death.

My heart dances with the daffodils

a condensed excerpt from her favorite poem “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” by Wordsworth, with its final strophe:

And then my heart with pleasure fills,

And dances with the daffodils.”

I believe it was it Mark Twain who once said:

“I’m not afraid of death but would rather not be there when it happens.”

When it happened to my dear Mother, I was glad to be there. Moved in my being by that singular experience, I wrote the poem that follows, hoping that you too will not be afraid to be there when it happens to someone dear to you.

Into that good night

You once read bedside stories

that sent me gentle

into my good night.

Is not the sound of those words

still the source of all I write?

My child’s mind is gone, it's said.

Too many stories I brought to life.

Here at the end, I hover around your bed

and bid you go gentle

into your good night.

Your eyelids weigh heavy, your eyesight fades away.

From far I’ve made it to your side,

just in time, holding tight.

But you do not go gentle

into that good night.

No, you battle with every breath.

Your arms fidget for some impossible task.

I rest my hand on your heart,

resolved to reassure you

about the coming good night.

You brought me into this world, dear Mother.

You held me tight and taught me wrong from right.

From this world you must depart -- to where I know not.

Just let me take you there,

gentle, into that good night.

Do you remember who you were before you were born?

Do you remember birth itself and the terror of it all?

Full circle we’ve now come as I, your child, bear witness

to your indestructible being, your enduring soul,

thrust back to its former good night.

As your consciousness flickers and fades,

I hold your withered hand and caress your face.

Do not fear, I say, for beyond is only love.

What other magic words might serve to efface

the painful heaving, the gasping for air…

all of it becoming more than I can bear.

Hours transpire while my tears like tides rise and retreat.

I wish for a mercy pill, a bell to sound the final beat.

Suddenly a mantra flashes into my mind:

Mother, I love you so, but now you can go.

I can no longer think, but only nine times repeat

those words that summon, gentle,

the coming of that good night.

Your breathing slows, then stops.

Your eyes open, fixed on the void above.

Your body stiffens and from your depths

you utter an impenetrable, ghostly moan,

as you go gentle into that good night.

I crumple and heave, but understand:

Wonderful and full of awe,

holy and wholly strange,

is the moment we go gentle,

forever, into that good night.*

* “That good night” is a phrase borrowed from Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, whose villanelle has never left my ear.

During my mother's decline into senility, I wrote a short, illustrated book for her and for all who deal with Alzheimer's disease. When I arrived for the final farewell, I found the book in tatters. She had read it over and over again so many times, always forgetting what she read. Stay tuned for a new edition of this book. The former edition is still available below, but is not optimized for an electronic version (the photos are cut off from page to page).

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