This Great Society - Writing


Illustration: Joel Bentley

Vic Cavalli: The Grace of a Happy Death
Illustration: Joel Bentley


              Immediately after the doors of the east elevator closed behind Mr. C’s wife and seven sons, and the echoes of their prayers and blessings had faded into the antiseptic silence of the ward, a dark-haired young woman stepped out of the west elevator, approached my station, and asked to see him. Her name wasn’t on the visitors’ list, but she claimed she was his daughter. She appeared genuine and so I led her to Mr. C’s private room in D 416. Mr. C was almost gone, but when he heard her voice he opened his eyes. He was obviously surprised and without question recognized her. She pulled a chair up to the side of his bed, placed her left hand on the back of his right hand, and being careful not to disturb his intravenous tube, she spoke softly and sweetly to him. Her blue eyes seemed to indicate a deep love for him.
              After a few minutes, there was a silence. Then suddenly his eyes glowed and his stubbly face smiled and I distinctly heard him whisper to her, very clearly and with tenderness, “My Gopi.” And then just as suddenly Mr. C closed his eyes and his face relaxed and he drifted into unconsciousness. I have no idea what he meant by “My Gopi,” but the young woman sat weeping in the chair next to him for close to 15 minutes before she finally said thank you to me and left the hospital. Her beautiful blue eyes were red from crying and I noticed how pretty and dark her hair was as the elevator doors closed.
              The following evening Mr. C died at 6:27 p.m. He was surrounded by his wife and sons, and although he was struggling to breathe, his face was luminous with joy. He was trying to tell them something exciting, but his words wouldn’t come out clearly; then they realized he must have seen an angel. When his son Samuel said, “Was it an angel, Dad? Did you see one?” Mr. C radiated with happiness, and to the degree that he was able in his weakened state, he lifted his right hand towards the door and smiled. He held it trembling there for only a few moments and then rested back and breathed his final breaths and died smiling with his eyes wide open. Prayers were firing at him from all directions as his wife burst into tears and was pulled close by the biggest boys and the little sons clutched at her waist and knees: “Holy Mary, Mother of God … Sacred Heart of Jesus ….” They each called towards him in scattered fragments.
              I recorded these events in my nurse’s log as required and saw no reason to contradict the family’s belief that he had seen an angel. Who am I to judge in such matters?


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