A History of Dying Spaces

Image; Famine (1997), sculpture by Rowan Gillespie commemorating the Great Famine; in Dublin.
Only my grandmother came home to die.
Her centuries old home was built
with a birthing and dying room,
two small bedrooms, a library
and as was custom, no parlor

She went through the process of life
in private but away from the spaces
entirely reserved for birth and death.

Home was a place where she ate,
sat still, stared and meditated
day after day at the place where she
came from and would finally end up.
That was the way it was suppose to be.

On that day, she sat in her old mahogany
birthing chair and closed her eyes
until they no longer fluttered.
Her hand fell on what was my mother’s
old crib, rocking it three times.
She was moved to the smaller room
long prepared for her body .
Her dying room had no light,
just a small bed with fluffy pillows.

My mother was a living woman.
When she bought her Miami house
near the beach and the bay
she made certain there were
no birthing and dying spaces,
just lots and lots of living areas:
four bedrooms, a sunken living room
that took more than half the space,
a well-breathed kitchen, a good size
open Florida room and beyond that
a screened-in clear blue pool
equal to the size of the living room.
This was the way she knew it was
suppose to be for her and for us.

She died on a flesh covered La-Z-Boy
in the TV-room of a much smaller house,
the arm rest worn through by constant
gripping, the foot rest half kicked off from
the convulsion prior to the hear attack.
I had just returned from seeing
Fatal Attraction at the mall Megaplex.
Thirty-five years later I’ve yet to rewatch it.

My father must have been thinking of his death
when he built his open house atop the charred ruins
of a post Civil War estate with servant quarters and
stables that overlooked Frenchman’s Cove in Maine.
The house was a wing cut from the air and
nailed to the rocky shore. The gentle waters of the bay
ached daily to caress the sighing foundation beneath
as if the water and air always knew and was now
retelling the story of every birth and death in the
front and back spaces of their proper time.
My father found peace there and called it Tranquility.
But the soil and tide knew from the soft screech
of the sky that he would be denied his wish to die there.

My father, a doctor, specialized in obstetric anesthesia,
and started his.practice just on the fringe when
birthing rooms were yielding to maternity wards.
On a bright day in his study overlooking the bay,
when he stared looking like he might be
turning the corner on a recent malady,
he turned pale and gray and short of breath.
He was passed from smaller hospital
to bigger hospital until he finally landed
in the University hospital where he taught
for many years, in a private room amidst
the throbbing and beeping of machines
he was intimately comfortable with.

On his second day in hospice, the machines
were disconnected and under the lightest
of anesthetic drugs he took his last sleep.
The interns said it was an honor
to treat him until his last dying breath.

I don’t know if I will pass in a dying room
of my choosing. it will certainly be far
removed from the room I was born.
Most likely I will die in the wrong place,
like most everyone else. As you have
read, the odds are less than one in three.
that nature or fate or God will get it right.

Time is too much about different
arrangements of proximity to be relied on.
So much depends on who goes in front of me.
Who is besides me and/or behind me.
Or just elsewhere, missing, soon to come.
it all depends on how attenuated I am
to the living and dying spaces around me.
How undoubtedly some one else
or no one will write or even remember
my ending and beginning