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Sandra Stories from Her Clan

The Deathbed - John Silliphant

“I want to die outdoors, under the trees.”  Everyone looked toward the hospice workers to whom her final request was addressed.  Sandra lived her life in no ordinary way, and would die in no ordinary way either.  Without debate, everyone agreed to work with her unusual request.

Arrangements were made to bring a hospital bed to their home.  When the time was near, Sandra would be transferred from her bed to the hospital bed, down the stairs and outdoors onto the lawn… below the chosen tree.

Their North Carolina property was large and surrounded by trees – a dream home for a lover of nature, like Sandra.

Though everyone appeared to be in agreement, Sandra’s father, Jaime, had an entirely different reaction.  “No, no, no, no, NO!”  He bellowed in a dramatic fashion.  His protests came as a total surprise.  “There is no way I will let my Sandra be wheeled out on a hospital bed!”

Jaime loved his daughter without limits.  If Sandra’s last request was to die way over in Asia, surrounded by loved ones, Jaime wouldn’t hesitate to book the entire first class of a Singapore Airlines flight and fly the whole lot to China to fulfill his precious daughter’s final request.

“The wheels will get caught in the lawn.  She’ll be bumping along the ground in her final moments.  Never!!  Sandra will NOT be wheeled out in a hospital bed!”

Ilene, Jaime’s wife and Sandra’s mother, was both bewildered and not, having learned over the years that their life together was a constant comedy-adventure-drama; the unexpected was always to be expected.

“Don’t worry, I have an idea.”  Ilene knew better than to worry.  She would let the man do what the man had to do.

I arrived with the other guests, to be with Sandra, in her final days.  Walking through the spacious house, I had noticed something odd, though I didn’t stop to investigate.  A very large, boxy object sat in the middle of their library.  It wasn’t until that evening that I learned about the deathbed.

I sat with Ilene and Patti, Sandra’s aunt, outdoors on the porch into the late night just talking.  Sandra had been such a huge influence in all of our lives, and at just 34 years old, she was now living out her final days.  What can possibly compare to the loss of one’s own child?  Ilene sat with us, carrying that weight.  A spirit like Sandra’s - so vibrant and so full of joy - cannot simply depart without leaving behind a very deep and profound wake to process.

There, on the porch, we all shared stories.  I listened.  That’s when they told me the story of the deathbed.

Jaime had ventured out to purchase a brand new box spring and mattress – something extremely comfortable and worthy of holding his beloved daughter’s body in her final moments.  He then went and purchased a large, sturdy metal cart with huge wheels – the best cart, in fact, that money could buy.  Jaime then went to the metal fabricators and had brackets welded on that could hold the new bed.  Once completed, the new unit was brought home in secrecy.

Beautiful sheets were lovingly placed upon Sandra’s bed, and it was rolled into the library to await its destiny.

What Ilene asked me next, took me completely by surprise.  She asked me if I would sleep in the new bed that night.

Me?  Sleep in the deathbed?  After that story?  Somehow the idea seemed entirely unright.  Wouldn’t I somehow taint this virgin bed by sleeping on it before Sandra?  What would Jaime think of this sacrilegious thought after all he had put into it?  What would Sandra’s husband, Hernan, think about having Sandra’s sacred deathbed cootified by another guy?  And me!  How would I feel sleeping on the deathbed?

No, it was not right.  There was nothing at all right about it.  But why?  Why would Ilene even want me to?  It turned out her reasoning wasn’t entirely ungrounded.  I loved Sandra.  She was a tremendously special friend of mine and Ilene thought that this would bring good energy to the bed.

Though the whole concept was entirely bizarre, I would think about it.

At about 3 in the morning, we agreed to call it a night.  My other option for sleeping was on the living room couch, a place where, with so many guests in the house, I would be awakened in a matter of hours.  The deathbed sat in the quiet library, behind closed doors.  Perhaps it was worth a little more consideration…

I walked into the library to revisit the deathbed.  This time, I investigated.  With jumbo-sized wheels, the bed stood about 4 feet off the ground!  It was soft and cushiony, boxy and grand – virgin - a true Cadillac of deathbeds.  Though conceived with magnificent love, it was entirely cold.

It was, after all, Sandra’s deathbed.

It stood there like a coffin.  Icy, inhuman – a reminder of all things Sandra wasn’t.  Dead.

Now I understood.  How could Sandra be placed on something so sterile and lifeless?  As awkward as it was, maybe Ilene’s idea wasn’t entirely wrong.  I braved lying on it for a few minutes to weigh my conflicting feelings.  With love in my heart, and prayers for Sandra, I opted to stay, and fell into sleep.

In the morning, I came out of the library feeling awkward as I went to rejoin the others.  Had I defiled anything?  What would people think?  I decided that if everyone took a turn, everyone’s good energy could go into the bed and it would be less personal.  Surprisingly, people agreed.

But no one else would sleep on that bed, as Sandra’s health deteriorated too quickly.  Though her dream of dying under the trees was a beautiful one, its translation to reality would simply be too abrasive.  Moving Sandra’s weakened body would have been jarring; the cold weather would have been too hostile.  In the gentle moments preceding her death, what mattered more than anything else was all the love that would surround her.

Sandra lay in bed, surrounded by tremendous love – the fruit of a life generously lived.

Moments before her final breath, her wishes would, in fact, come true as the doors to her room were opened, allowing Nature to pour in.  With a rush of cold air, a chorus of chirping birds now filled the room.  There, in her own room, on her own bed, and surrounded by Nature, Sandra breathed her final breath… just as the first, golden rays of dawn reached up from behind the surrounding forest.

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