He stopped by her bedside and gazed upon her old almost lifeless face. Old and lifeless as it was, he could tell that she must have been a beauty when she was in her prime. She lay by the only window in the room and overlooked the busy streets. She never asked to sit up so she could stare at hustling and bustling of people trying to make ends meet like most people would. She never really asked for much. He asked her once why this was and she replied, “My life was full of people, now it’s almost up I just want to enjoy and simply bask in the beauty of the blue sky. Who knows? Today may be the last day I’d see it. It’s really beautiful, you know?”. It baffled him, her answer. He always strolled the hospitals and had never found a woman, or any one in fact, so at peace with death before. Granted, she was old and had probably lived her life to the full but no one ever wanted to die. No matter how old you are, how sad and hopeless your life seemed, no one wanted to live the world and cease to enjoy the mortal things that he had come to hate simply because he couldn’t enjoy them. The fact that this woman was strangely happy therefore intrigued him no end.
Her name was Agnes, she told him. Wife of an army general and mother to two army boys, she had had all die on the battlefield. She had been a nurse during World War II and even though she got no recognition for her service, she always told him how proud she was of that opportunity to serve, preserve life and be an instrument of hope. He asked her what happened when she had to tell a person that he wasn’t going to make it. Tell him that the battlefield and all its supposed glory, the battlefield and all its bloodshed and gore was the last place they would ever be. She stared up into that blue sky, staring at the birds as they caressed the clouds and airs with their beating wings and said not facing him, “Those are the really trying times, you know? You see the fight leaving his eyes and you feel his pain and sadness well up inside you as well. You want to save him but you know you can’t and it hurts. It hurts so bad you can’t help but wonder if his pain is greater than yours. You try to keep him company so he knows you care but can’t. Others are dying around you too. You look down and wish him luck knowing that he’d never see those he loved again and you’d be the last face he saw. You get angry, you don’t know where it’s coming from but you feel it eating you up, feeding on your hopelessness, consuming you totally. Why couldn’t you save him? What use were your skills then? Then someone tugs on your sleeve and you realize that you can’t save everyone. You realize that the more you think about it, that one death, the more people die around you. You don’t want that so you move on to the next one and hope it’s, the situation, better than the previous one. You don’t even have time to mourn at all. It was always the same with every death.” When he asked her which side she was on, she looked squarely at him, crinkled her already wrinkled face into a thin smile and said, “Life has no side, no good or evil. Keeping them alive did not require me having to pick a side.”.
He had been alive during the World War and when he told her as much she looked up at him and called him a joker, telling him that he looked way too young. In reality, he had been in all the World Wars. The notion of death brought fear to even the bravest of men, this he knew from experience. He had watched people die and seen them struggle to come to terms with death, especially theirs. He had always had to convince those who truly weren’t meant to remain to let go. Convincing them was necessary cause contrary to popular beliefs if a person didn’t truly and fully relinquish their hold on this world he couldn’t really force them to go with him. Doing that always took time, no one ever really truly wanted to leave. In all the years, decades, millenia that he’d been doing this, he’d never met a woman like this old wrinkled woman on the bed in front of me. You’d think he’d be happy for his work was made easier by her attitude but everyday he stood by her bedside, he dreaded the day he’d have to take her away. For once, this was one person he didn’t want to let die. However, she was ready to go and he couldn’t really hold her back, it just wasn’t in his job description.
He sat down on the chair beside the bed and just stared at her. He really was in awe of this woman. She was so at peace with that fact that she was going to die that it really made him feel uncomfortable a bit. He looked at her and asked, he couldn’t help it any longer, “Why? Why are you so comfortable with letting go? Why do you feel so happy that your life is over? Why do you smile when you know that anytime from now you will never be able to set your eyes upon these skies that you love so much? Why?”. She turned her head away from the window and looked him straight in his eyes. She begun, “I have served my purpose.”. She paused, coughed, adjusted herself and continued, “The fact that I am dying now at a ripe old age is beautiful in itself. How many get to be this age? How many young ones did I hold and watch part from this world? How many fathers did I watch cry about leaving their little child behind with a loving wife? I have lived a long life but each day that passes by with me lying I realize that I’m no longer needed. I may be old but I’m not stupid, I see the look in the nurse’s eyes when she smiles while changing my beddings. She’s tired of me. Yes, when I first came there were cards, flowers, well wishers, but where are they now? Look around, who do you see here? My purpose is fulfilled and now it’s time for me to make way for something greater than myself. If we all lived and didn’t die, would there really be space for us all? Had our fathers before us and those before them been alive, would we as a specie have made as much progress as we have? My death is necessary cause each day I remain here, I prevent that young nurse from spending time, no matter how little, with those who should and probably won’t remain here, this clinic that is, for long. As a nurse, I know how important that is. Everyday I remain here I prevent my family & friends from fully moving on as the fact that I am still alive makes them feel a sense of responsibility to visit me even though I can see in their eyes whenever they come around, that they think it -visiting me- has become nothing but a major chore. Every small amount of time I seep from their lives just by refusing to let this world go isn’t that selfish? I have lived my life and yet I prevent them from living theirs.” She looked away from him back to the sky and continued, “Yes, Death is not fair, but life isn’t either. People live who don’t deserve to, and people die who don’t deserve to. That’s just the way the world is. I have realized that death is just as important as life. The death of a flower ensures the growth of a better and healthier flower. Even when death is cruel, if guided well that supposed cruel death can produce something far greater than that benign life could simply hope and dream to achieve. Will I miss this world? Sure, however, it is pointless to hang on. I must leave it for the birth of something greater than myself. I, alone, am not important, nevertheless, I must hope, for that is all I can do, that my relieving just a few people from this burden that is me I have done a great service. Death is beautifully oddly cruel, beautiful nonetheless.”. She turned to him again and smiled.
He just stared at her. For the first time, he was not willing to take her away. He couldn’t do it. For a man well versed with death and accepting it, he did not want to accept that she deserved to die. She had just told him that life and death weren’t fair and that’s how the world was but he felt that her death would be the cruelest of all. She was not in the least bothered about herself and that in itself amazed him. He was quite sure that she’d always been like that but it had to have started somewhere and sometime. What had happened to her that had made her this way? That was irrelevant though. He wished he had known her since but that too was irrelevant now. She started coughing and he made to call a nurse. He felt strange doing that, he had never once felt the need to help one of his passengers before. He ran down the hallway and dragged the nurse, the one she’d just explained was tired of her, to the room of this old dying lady. He got to the room and first of all noticed that the old lady wasn’t moving. He couldn’t even explain the feelings that washed over him because he had never felt them before but right then he was sure he was holding back tears. Again, he couldn’t be sure cause though he had seen people do it for years, he had never once shed tears himself. He saw a smile on her face and realized that she was happy. While the nurse, yes the same one, tried to save the already dead woman, he turned round and noticed a fair young maiden standing at the foot of the bed smiling down at the old woman.
He walked up to her and said, “You ready? ” She turned to face him and smiled, “What do you think?” He shook his head with a smile on his face. She moved her hand towards his face and wiped a tear away from his face, “Are you crying? Why?”. She laughed, a deep throaty laughter that came from deep within that it shocked him. She was the first one to laugh on the journey, most people cried, others just stared, few tried to jump back into their bodies. Yep, she was the first to laugh. He took her and as they walked towards the light, yes there really is a great light, he said, “You’re really something, you know?” She looked at him and smiled, “I am? Death is and quite a looker too” He laughed loudly and continued the journey with the strangest woman he had ever met.