There have been lots of people dying around me lately. I don’t need any more reminders that I’m now the oldest generation in my family. I’m the one at the goal line.
Last week, my friend Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross died. A tireless champion for the terminally ill, she changed the way people talked about death and dying. We met nine years ago, when she came to Arizona. She came after her Virginia farm burned to the ground in a mysterious fire. Elisabeth thought it was because some in the community didn’t want her to build a healing center for AIDS babies.
As great as her talent for inspiration was, she could get people agitated as well. Mostly, I remember her laugh. Elisabeth loved to laugh. She dressed up on Halloween, but she gave away candy every day. She loved Swiss chocolates (anything Swiss actually). Nothing quite made her smile like lighting up one of her beloved Dunhill’s cigarettes.
Some months ago before addressing a Hospice audience, I read to Elisabeth my summary, which was entitled “Six Things to Do When You’re Dying.” She said, “Of course they are all important, but the most important is ‘Don’t lose your sense of humor, there is nothing you can’t laugh about.’”
The week before she died, over our traditional breakfast — a bagel with lox spread and capers — we schmoozed. I told her about the death of my mother and my trip to Germany. After we’d both finished, I asked for my customary piece of Swiss chocolate and, for the first time, Elisabeth refused me. “Why not,” I asked incredulously, and she said, “Wait and eat it later.” I didn’t quite get it, but didn’t plead.
Elisabeth’s memorial service was over the Labor Day weekend. I had planned on going up to the White Mountains with my grandkids to do some fishing and hiking. I decided that’s really where I wanted to be and knew Elisabeth would have agreed, but I did take a piece of Swiss chocolate along with me.
Her memorial service was at 3 p.m. last Saturday afternoon. I was deep in the forested mountains of Northern Arizona and, about that time, put the chocolate in my mouth. When you love someone, you save a little piece of them. There comes a time, a place, a song, a picture, a story, a piece of Swiss chocolate…..and you think about the soul you loved.
“Wait and eat it later” is clearer to me now; what a wonderful way to be reminded of a life remembered.