Dying, for me, was a beautiful experience.
I know that sounds crazy, blasphemous even, to describe such a tragic thing, a viscerally sad thing, in such a dissonant way. You might wonder if I was depressed. And truly, I wasn’t. In the end, despite everything, I was stupidly happy. Still, if I was being completely and truly honest, dying, the actual act of it, not the pain or the ragged breathing, no, the actual process of letting go… that part. That part was bliss.
Let me tell you about my life, before I ask you to celebrate in its ending.
It wasn’t a particularly spectacular existence, some might even call it boring, run of the mill. A life that could be mistaken for a thousand others. Of course, to me, at the time, it was everything, the only thing.
I was born in a small Midwestern town, raised in typical Midwestern niceness, by a father who was strict and distant but did his best, and a mother who was a tad too religious but who did all the mothering things with unmatched fervor. I was clothed in clean clothes, my feet adorned with shoes that were sensible and fit well. I was loved and scolded and hugged in all the typical ways. I had two sisters I constantly squabbled with, banging on the shared bathroom door, hastily getting ready for the day in a panic, somebody always holding up the one hairdryer, using up all the hot water.
I loved, oh yes, I loved. Roman, that was his name. I remember thinking his name had that unique way of rolling easily in the curl of my tongue, passing effortlessly through my lips, like I’ve said his name all my life, or that I’m meant to, for the rest of it.
He was brilliant, my Roman. I met him at university, studying astrophysics. He had grand ideas and even grander dreams. He loved life but at the same time was disillusioned by it. He said to me once, using his hands to gesture into space: “It’s not possible, you know, that this is it. There’s more to this, more to everything, we just can’t see it.”
You would think it would hurt, the way he said it, the way he longed for something more than us, more than what I could give him, but it didn’t. Because I knew what he meant, I felt it too.
There was something in between the empty spaces, he told me, between the tiniest of particles. An answer to everything.
I never found out what he meant, neither did he. He died shortly after his twenty-fifth birthday, before he was able to finish his research, before he got to meet his daughter, at that point still the tiniest clump of molecules gestating inside me.
I remember the pain of that moment. How the world became dull and gray. How I went to sleep too many nights hoping to never wake up again. But day after day I woke up, and I would go through the motions, and I would go to work and my prenatal appointments, smiling at my doctor, telling him yes, yes, I’m doing okay. It’s hard, but I’ve got my sisters, you know, and my mom…
Then I had my daughter, and at once the world had color again. She had Roman’s eyes, almond shaped and deeply brown, thick dark lashes swooping downwards at the sides. I swear she looked at me in the exact way Roman did, with that exact slight raise of the brows, the slight curl in the lips, and I remember weeping.
I named her: Aster. Star. The only one that mattered in my universe, my sun.
We had a simple life, our little family of two. We fought a lot, in the way all mothers and daughters do, Aster having the quick wit of her father, the stubbornness of her mother. She broke my heart a million times when she was a teenager, which we mended as we both grew older. Then as quickly as she came into my life, she left. I understood. She had to build a life of her own, having met her own star, her own universe.
And it was good.
She’s finally here. My star. “Aster.”
Large dark eyes stared down at me. She was older now, my star, smile lines having formed at the corners of her eyes. Have those always been there? They must have. Aster always smiled with her eyes.
“Hey mom, it’s okay. We’re here.”
We. I couldn’t see well these days. She must have brought her little boy, my grandson. I squinted at the small blonde head on her lap. She named him… Roman.
I wanted so much to smile, but it hurt to even breathe. My chest muscles struggled to expand. I saw the nurse put a hand on my daughter’s shoulder, shaking her head.
Yes, there was pain, every single muscle hurt, the air caught uncomfortably in my chest, but there was also something else… something light. Suddenly I felt weightless. I knew then it was time to go.
Time at once contracted then expanded, and I could see everything, the future, the past, all possible choices and universes all at once. I finally saw it, what my Roman was talking about, the space in between the tiniest particles, the invisible energy that connects all of us together, in every universe, in every possible dimension. My universe, my stars.
I died then.
And it was beautiful.
I swallowed thirteen pills. One for every year that I’d been alive. It seemed like a lucky number.
My mom made me shove my finger down my throat, which I did. She went back to sleep. I took thirteen more and added one of her muscle relaxers– for luck.
I woke her up. Off to Conway Medical Center we went.
It’s a blur between now and then. There are flashes of my mom lifting my legs into our 2001 Pontiac Montana, a blip of me stumbling through the emergency room parking lot, and fluorescent lights rail-roading above my head as scrubs-clad bodies moved frantically around the hospital bed.
A tube forces its way into my throat. I thought I felt it. But maybe not. The objects in the room melt into one another and the doctors and nurses became a singular entity barking orders and confirmations. Black sludge pushes itself into my body.
As my blinking slows, the images swirled into a void familiar, a listless dreamscape, the somber knowledge of the improvements to be found in my absence, that a loss is not truly a loss, that time heals all wounds– of all this, I am convinced. Across my vision comes a flurry of juvenile faces offering nothing more than bitter accusation, memories of the cuts along my arms, legs, and back made with the knife my mother had been trying to find for weeks, a lonely walk home, a move I never wanted to make, and a box in a little girl's closet filled with presents for when her hero returns.
The scene shifts, unnatural choreography formed within my lulling eye. I see my mother, first fresh faced and young, then weary, then worried, crying in a lonely waiting room, biting the brittle nails she’d worked so hard to grow. I remember, five years prior, when her cousin placed a barrel between his teeth, discovered later by his teenage son. My great-aunt threw herself across the closed coffin, wailing for her baby boy. There was a shrine of him in her home, an aging picture set atop a piano that would never be played again. Was this my fate– a picture hung in a living room, stared at often but discussed little, a too-taut heartstring never to be released?
Slingshot visions pulled me from maternal lamentations and propel me into a place I’d never seen, a place that feels like home, where tiny voices call for me and a calloused hand grazes the length of my cheekbone. I saw my mother’s wrinkled face wash over with peace, and one of the few smiles life allowed her creeping across her cracking lips.
Bright lights come into gentle focus. The medical staff is moving less frantically though the seriousness in their steps remains. The tube is pulled from my throat. I gag, cough, and drift off.
When I wake, my mother is by my side whispering a notion of unconditional love. The doctor comes, informs me of my stability. As discussed, he says, if you tried to do this again, we’d have to watch you for a few days.
Three hours later, two officers appear at my bedside. They clasp my hands and my wrists and escort me to a nearby elevator. As I walk, the metal twists around my ankles. One of the officers takes pity and releases the lower set of cuffs, warning me not to run off. The elevator reaches the bottom floor and the doors open. It is twilight, and there is a police car waiting on the other side of the glass entryway. I’m told to watch my head as I awkwardly shift my body into the backseat.
As the car pulls out of the lot, I think of what I’ve seen and wonder- am I truly to be fixed?
Karma (Reposted Excerpt)
At first there was only sleep. Deep sleep. The deepest of sleeps. His heart rate slowed and slowed until his body, for all intents or purpose, lived no more. He saw the body there on the table. His body. Dead. He was dead. He watched the body as he drifted away, untethered from it. He watched it get smaller, and smaller. He watched it not because he cared what happened to it, but because he did not want to turn. He did not want to know what was behind him, what it was that awaited him next. He did not want to know what the answer was to the only real question.
But then he did turn. Slowly. Something far away called to him and he turned, something from the darkness. Deep inside that darkness was a pinpoint of light. It was unwillingly that he moved toward the pinpoint, but he did not walk, as there were no feet on no ground. There were no arms to swing, there was no voice to sing. There was nothing; a vacuum. He could still be analytical! It was a vacuum! He clung to that, clung desperately because he had thought of it. He had thought it!
“I think, therefore I am.”
Had there been a mouth, it would have smiled. He had remembered his Nietsche. He was still him. He could still remember!
The light was closer, only it was no longer light. It was colors now. Prismatic and bold colors. Rainbow colors wrapping around him, embracing him, touching every part of whatever it was that was him. Warm and wet were the colors, like lotion caressing, squeezing him inside, like vaginal walls pulling. Like wet, warm vaginal walls massaging, and squeezing him inside to a place that he did not even know that he could not have resisted.
Had he a mouth it would have kissed. Had he a dream, the dream would be this.
And then it was done. And then he was there, where the ears are music, and the eyes light. There, where the mind was wonder, and where, with the body gone, nothing else could ever matter.
Dr. Abel Cane had come full circle; born of the Mother, taught to suffer, and returned to the Father.
The circle of life
It was Monday. The machines that marked his breaths, his heart beats, slowed. An unrelieved hum filled the room when his lungs emptied, and his body deflated, motionless. He was no longer. His wife held his lifeless hand, her head upon her bent arm by his side. Nurses who had become friends during his final weeks stood vigil with her. Some cried; some hugged. One put a comforting hand on his wife’s shoulder.
Clearly, it was not with eyes that he saw this. He was dead. And yet, he was there, in the room, hovering, everywhere.
Where was his daughter?
Then, he knew, and in the moment that he knew, he was no longer in the room, but rather, where she was, heavy with child, happy, still ignorant of his passing.
He wondered that he was not elsewhere but gave thanks he could see his baby. If only he could see hers.
Then they were in the hospital and her husband was pale and sickly as he awaited the birth holding her hand and staring at the machine monitoring the baby’s heart, while she sang, loudly, with each contraction.
He watched, waited, till suddenly he felt another presence as incorporeal as his own. And he knew. His grandson.
And as he ceased to be himself and became one with all that is and ever shall be, his grandson took his first breath.
What Have I Done?
Dear God, what have I done?
This question, above all others, is the one echoing inside my heart, or soul, or whatever this is. I can see myself lying in the road, but worse, I can see Janice. She is half on the sidewalk, half in the roadway, and her neck is bent at an impossibly strange angle. I can only pray that she dies soon. I thought maybe she was dead already, until I saw a tear fall from her eye, and watch her drag in a strangled and tortured breath.
I follow her gaze, and realize she is staring at my body. I have no doubt I am dead, since the blood and brains that are leaking around my crushed skull are spreading out into the rain-wet street as the first sirens cry in the distance.
I'm suddenly transported backward through time to earlier this evening, like some twisted and cruel version of that Christmas story with the ghosts. I can't remember the fucking name now, but I remember every detail of the scene I am being forced to witness.
Worse than knowing what is going to happen at the end of the night, is my utter impotency to prevent any of it.
The office Christmas party was supposed to be a fun evening, to let our proverbial hair down. I see Janice, looking gorgeous in her red gown, and I watch myself pour a third vodka tonic. This was all my fault. I watch as I toss the drink back, without even batting an eye. I was always so proud of my ability to handle my liquor.
I watch as I weave slightly on my trip to the bathroom. Asshole!
In the bathroom, I take a piss, then turn and look at myself in the mirror. I pull out the small vial, and use the little spoon on my key ring to snort just enough coke to straighten my gait and put me back in control. I even winked at myself. I so wish I could stop what happens next, but I am stuck as an observer.
I leave the bathroom, and head back to the open bar. Janice scowls at me. No, I thought so then, but now I can see the look of concern in her eyes. That look is followed by pity, and then reluctant acceptance. At the bar, I was just pissed that she didn't trust me to know my own limit, so I poured a fourth drink, and when I catch her eye, I even take a swig from the bottle, before replacing the stopper.
The events after that are a little blurry, until we are getting ready to leave the party. I take a last trip to the bathroom, and finish off the stash in the vial. My eyes are a little red in my reflection, but I am once more in control, and the edges come back into focus. I grin at myself, never realizing the next time I would see my own face, it would be oddly squished from being run over by a car.
I must have pulled off the sober routine well, because no one tried to make sure she drove us home. How I wish someone had.
In the car, we started arguing. I was trying to convince her I was fine to drive, and she kept messing with her purse, and whining at me that she needed to talk to me. I yelled at her to shut up, that we would talk at home. I didn't notice the tears I am watching course down her cheeks, or see what she had taken out of her purse.
Oh God, no!
She is holding a pregnancy test stick, and I can see two pink lines.
I feel sick to my stomach, but I don't have an actual body, so I can only suffer through more pain and regret than humans were designed to endure.
I watch the bridge come into view, and Janice turns her face away from mine. I see myself looking at her, and I remember I was pissed that she was crying, and ruining my Christmas Eve. We start across the bridge doing 52. The limit is 55, so I am good in the old speed department.
I scream silently at myself not to look away from the road, but instead I see myself look over at Janice one last time. A small hiccup and a muscle spasm at just the wrong time, and the wheel jumps in my hand.
Time slows to a crawl, and I watch in slow motion as we careen headfirst into a semi coming the other way. I see us both fly through the windshield, which shatters into thousands of small fragments. I watch as Janice flips end over end, and hear the snap as she lands on the edge of the sidewalk, and I watch her head assume that strange, almost alien angle, bending in a place that was never meant to bend. I see myself land in the road, just as the car that was following the truck swerves around it, both of its passenger side tires lifting and bouncing as they run over my head. The popping noise sounds like a champagne bottle releasing its cork, and I suddenly find myself back above the scene watching it all.
The emergency vehicles are pulling up and blocking the road as the rain begins to fall in earnest.
Dear God, what have I done?
This question, above all others, is the one echoing inside my heart, or soul, or whatever this is. I can see myself lying in the road, but worse, I can see Janice, again, half on the sidewalk, half in the roadway, her neck still bent at that impossibly strange angle. I pray once again that she dies soon, and I once more watch a tear fall from her eye as she takes a strangled and tortured breath.
As I follow her gaze to where my body lay, broken, bleeding and all together dead, I once more hear the sirens crying in the distance.
No, God! Please, not again!
I'm suddenly transported backward through time to earlier this evening, like some twisted version of that fucking Christmas story with the ghosts, whatever it is called. I can't remember that, but I do remember I have done this before. Many times.
Maybe this is my punishment. Experiencing every second of the evening, over and over. I hope that mercy is also part of God's plan, even for assholes like me. These thoughts become fainter, as I watch myself weave slightly, on my trip to the bathroom, with the coke vial calling my name from my pocket...
© 2023 dustygrein
Nothing but comfort.
Warn-In shoes, diamond earrings, old picture frames, bedding and clothes. Useful articles that are useless to me. Sealing the envelopes that contain pictures of my no-contact husband, Darrell. I think of the dress I wore at the wedding. Not that wedding, but my first one. We were young, I was barely in to my 20s. When he made the head strong decision of war, I knew it would be trouble. But his eyes, his heart, I wanted it all. We celebrated the last few days we had together with dinners. But the night he went away I wish I would have stopped him. Stalled him and popped the tires to his car. Flashing back to now, I know it’s coming soon. Some may fear, but I excite. I imagine seeing his eyes, feeling his heart. That’s nothing but comfort.
June 10th is the two-year anniversary of my dad’s death. He battled pancreatic cancer for 10 months before he died. I quit my job to act as his hospice nurse during his last weeks. It was an honor to take care of him, and this challenge came at the perfect time. My dad’s pre-death flashback is a memory I’ll always treasure, and it’s nice to write about it this week.
Lydia was the professional hospice nurse who helped me take care of my dad during his last few weeks. She was an amazing, kind soul, and she prepared me for my dad’s death with sincerity and honesty.
She told me, “When the human body is dying and your dad’s organs are failing, strange and scary things might happen. His body is poisoning itself, but his mind will protect him.”
Lydia explained how our mind and our brains are still medical mysteries. There’s so much we don’t understand, but we know our brain protects us from pain. It puts our body into shock so we don’t feel physical pain. It blocks and distorts painful emotional memories, and there’s countless testimonies of people flashing back to their most peaceful and happy moments right before they die.
My dad lost his ability to speak a couple days before he passed away. His hospice bed was in the living room, and my mom and I were mindlessly watching TV in silence with him. Dad couldn’t control his body anymore so his head, arms, hands, and legs jerked around seemingly aimlessly. I’m not sure what caught my attention, but I keyed into the rhythm of his body’s movements and noticed a pattern.
Left foot pressed down.
Right hand made a fist at his hip, and moved left to right.
Right foot pressed down.
Left hand made a circular motion.
Right hand grabbed something and came up to his face.
Left hand made a peace sign and came to his lips.
Over and over.
He was smiling. His lips were mouthing something.
I laughed out loud when I realized what was happening.
“Holy shit, MOM! Dad is drinking a beer and smoking a cigarette in the car right now.”
My mom said, “You can’t let him smoke, Bridgette.”
“No Mom! LOOK! He’s shifting gears, rolling down the window, drinking a beer, and smoking a cigarette. I think he’s singing too.”
And he was.
My dad was flashing back to his happiest moments. He was driving his family to the beach, visiting his construction worksites, singing in his truck, enjoying the sunshine, and blasting the oldies with the windows down.
I got to see my dad smile and sing one last time. He was enjoying a cold beer and a smoke. He was happy, doing something he loved. I’ll never forget that moment. I’m happy to share it with all of you today. Thank you for the prompt :)
A Ring Around The Rosie
We do not go and look above a body. We look above a Life.
On our lips-- a Name.
It's a person, a place, a thing. Whatever the noun, if it is the outlier, it is the Anomaly. The Word of whatever it was that remained Unresolved in the lifetime of the dying.
That is the Name that escapes upon the breath, upon the fading gasps-- The Rose Bud as it were. The final vying for resolution. Perhaps for restitution. Or redemption. The return to a moment. To an opportunity. In any case, a desired course of correction for whatever actions remained taken or untaken, words spoken or unspoken-- that which might have altered the trajectory of the ones who lie at the brink of life and death with limbs still outstretched. The Departing, looking over the shoulder, at all the deformity; the chips and burdens in the now distant bodily backpack that was being so unwittingly carried to who knows where, never reaching its imaginary destination.
And now it is too late. Everything is suddenly more real than real. The Finality, which contorts with hallucinations, phantom sensations, stupor, and then with the Equilibrium, which only Death can bring.
I have seen the Dying up close on several occasions, among animals, but only once with a human being. I will refer only to He, as Who, so that we can focus on the What, and that you might better understand the nature of the Outlier.
He was dying. He had known it for months, as a foreboding, through subtle signals of the body. The shortness of breath. The fatigue. The black stool. The way the circulation wasn't flowing, and extremities would alternately whiten or blacken from lack of oxygen. Rigorous massage by his beloved would revive the hands or feet, but the forced blankness of his face betrayed an understanding of what was coming.
And when the time came, he demanded vehemently that all the windows and doors be opened!! Then he insisted they all be shut, because it was terribly cold, and a persecutory They were coming. He spoke of his poor Mommy. He remembered fondly his Father. He hollered for Her who was not here!! Anger over shook him and distain that she was always too late in coming. Always. Never living up to Her potential. On Her arrival, he no longer recognized her.
Then he reminisced about She for whom he had done everything, Everything, whose love had dissipated and escaped him. He called this one by proper name. He did not chide that articulated She for not being there. She was called tenderly by secreted pet name, and then words failed him... breath became a rasp, slow and rhythmic, and then a death rattle. He was pale, sculptural, cool to the touch and an expression of bliss covered his face. His eyes shut; his lips parted. He rested like this a while; then as if suddenly, the Soul was gone.
When I called the One, the She who had been his Everything, and told her, she asked, of course. She asked the pertinent question about the last word and received it with an unhidden pleasure. The private long obscured pet name cementing that all Significant personal Importance in a Life now ended.
Jealously, She wanted to know if he had called out my name as well? No. He did not. She didn't comprehend the converse significance: that we had No unresolved issues.
One Last Hiraeth
Only a few leaves remained on the great oak tree which the old man had instructed should mark the site of his grave. The fever had gripped him for three nights and days: but he was comforted by the presence of his daughters, and their families, standing vigil by his bedside.
They had kept him hidden these past few years: and none had betrayed this most hunted and hated of Welshmen to the English king. His fate would not be that of Owain Lawgoch, last of the ancient line of the House of Gwynedd, assassinated in France by an English spy. Nor would it be like that of Dafydd ap Gruffydd, brother of Llywelyn the Last, who had been dragged through the streets of Shrewsbury, before becoming the first notable person to suffer that most heinous and barbaric of deaths: judicial murder by hanging, drawing and quartering.
No, this Welsh rebel would die peacefully in bed. His rebellion had been the longest and most fiery of Wales’ mediaeval wars for independence, and the one that had come closest to achieving its aim: three years had passed since it had effectively burnt itself out. A new king had come to the throne of England, one who had struck a more conciliatory tone than his perpetually insecure father. Royal pardons had been offered, and had come to the attention of the weary old rebel, but he had scoffed at them. Though his dreams had been shattered, at least he would die a free man of Wales. He would not bend the knee to the new English king, even if the news accompanying the final pardon spoke of Henry V’s great victory over the French on the field of Agincourt.
He peered at the parchment lying across his lap through weary eyes, and chuckled gently. ‘My joints are far too enfeebled to permit me to bend the knee to anyone now,’ said Sychath’s greatest son.
Two nights later the final chill had come upon him. On the third evening of fever, he lay abed, gazing up at his three ever-faithful daughters. His sons, alas, were lost to him. His firstborn, Gruffydd, had been taken prisoner by the English, and had died from bubonic plague in the Tower of London three years before. Three of his other four sons - Madog, Thomas, and John - were also dead, or taken captive. Of his sons, only Maredudd remained at liberty, hiding somewhere in the mountain fastness of Gwynedd, reduced to the level of meagre banditry in his continuing futile resistance to the English. None of his sons had sired heirs: the old man knew that, with his passing, the male line of descent from the royal dynasties of Wales would surely fail.
His daughters, at least, were safe. Alys, Janet and Margaret had all found English husbands amongst the gentry of Herefordshire. It was here, in the home of Alys and her husband, Sir John Scudamore, Sheriff of Herefordshire, that the wily old fox had found a final bolthole. If only the young English king knew, that one of his most faithful servants in the Marches, had secretly married the daughter of a Welshman - and the most notorious Welshmen at that! Love is a mysterious thing, pondered the old man drowsily. I’m in the last place the king would think to look for me: and I am safe. If only my beloved homeland could be so!
‘Fear not, Owain,’ spoke an unfamiliar young voice from the crowd assembled around his bedside: ‘We know of the hiraeth you feel. You can rest now. Your labours have not been in vain.’
Who was that who had spoken?
The old man struggled to raise his head - surrounded as it was by comforting pillows - and, concentrating as best he could, tried to focus his uncertain gaze upon the attentive crowd. They looked different, somehow. In place of his daughters, sons-in-law and grandchildren, a strange assembly of figures were standing there. The dress of most of them was unfamiliar, outlandish even. Most - though not all of them - were smiling at him: as if encouraging him, soothing him, by their mere presence. They seemed to be standing slightly apart from one another, as if only half-aware that they were part of a greater company. Their focus was firmly fixed upon him. One of them, he realised, was richly dressed, in a manner not entirely unlike the way he himself had once dressed, at his court at Glyndyfrdwy: though not even at his coronation had he been arrayed as splendidly as this figure was. Here before him stood the imposing figure of a great - if somewhat portly - king.
‘Hail, cousin,’ cried the king, laughing heartily. ‘Rest easy, knowing that the red rose and the white will be united, and the white dragon and the red will wage war no more. The Sons of Penmynydd will sit upon the throne of England. Camelot will rise anew.’
Next to the king, another figure, younger, much slimmer, was also dressed in princely garb, though less sumptuous than that of the merry monarch. ‘Mamma thought a crash course in y Gymraeg and a term at Aberystwyth would suffice to win over the hearts and minds of the Welsh towards their newest prince,’ the young man announced dolefully. ‘But, alas, it takes more than an investiture ceremony in an English-built castle of occupation to achieve that. I may bear the title, for a while: but you were the last true Prince of Wales, old man.’ There was a look of grave respect upon his face, but also deep sadness.
‘They drowned our valley, then stole our water,’ chimed another, bitterly, ‘But we do not forget. Cofiwch Dryweryn.’
‘We laboured in the darkest pit,’ continued a fourth figure, ‘not just us, but for many generations our children.’ His face was blacked, and he was wearing strange headgear, from which a dim but discernible light was radiating out, blending with the glow of the dozen candles flickering across the old man’s bedroom. ‘The dust blackened our lungs, the rocks scarred our bodies. Four hundred of us died beneath the earth in one day at Senghenydd alone. As for Aberfan–’ the man stopped speaking for a moment and swayed silently, as if overcome with emotion, before continuing: ‘But as we toiled underground, we also built the finest communities overground. We became a land of chapel and of song…’
‘And of rugby,’ interrupted a younger man, with a mischievous demeanour. His clothes were different, again, exposing more skin than any of the others, and he was mostly arrayed in red and white. Tucked under his right arm he held a strange elongated bladder-shaped object. But this was no court jester, despite his garb. ‘They sang Bread of Heaven in the stand, and angels wept at their rapture; we played on the pitch, and devils quaked at our determination.’
‘I was determined too,’ said the eldest individual. He had a once-impressive, now thinning head of white hair. He declaimed (somewhat imperiously): ‘I was inspired by Gandhi and King. And by you, of course. I threatened to go on hunger strike if they didn’t give us the Welsh language television channel they had promised us. They gave in. I was President of Plaid for thirty-six years, but that was the crowning moment of my life. Cymru am byth.’
‘And I walked twenty-six miles barefoot over hills and valleys to buy a book,’ said a young girl softly, clad in the traditional chequered shawl that Welsh women had worn virtually unchanged for generations. ‘But not just any book. They called me: y Gymraes fechan heb yr un Beibl. The Welsh girl without a Bible. But my story led to the foundation of societies that would take the word of God throughout the whole world.’
‘And it wasn’t just the Word that went out from Wales.’ This new voice belonged to a smiling sun-drenched brown skinned woman who spoke with a peculiar accent, neither Welsh nor English. ‘The people went too. And they built Y Wladfa, on another continent, remote and cold. But it was home. Buenas noches, dulce príncipe, descansa en paz.’
The bedridden old man could stay silent no more. ‘What manner of words are these?’ Tremulous and rasping though it might be, there was unmistakable awe and wonder in his faltering voice. ‘What portends do they present before my eyes? Visions from hell?’
‘No, not hell. Nor, indeed, of heaven - despite what Gareth Edwards might say.’ There was a languid mocking tone in this new voice. It belonged to the last of this strange crowd, a dishevelled figure with a bulbous nose, and messy hair, who was standing most markedly apart from all the others. ‘He may have been the greatest player ever to don a Welsh rugby shirt: but I’m the wordsmith, the heir to Taliesin, not him.’
‘Taliesen was never described as a roistering, drinking and doomed poet,’ said the imperious elder severely.
‘True, Gwynfor,’ said the younger man. ‘But as for you, Owain: take some small comfort, if you can, from my words. Dead men naked they shall be one / With the man in the wind and the west moon / Though lovers be lost love shall not / And death shall have no dominion.’
‘Romans chapter 6, verse 9,’ said the young girl, and the old man realised that she was the one who had first spoken to him. ‘Worry not for the future of Wales, Owain. The universities, the Senedd, the dream of a people proud and free - it will all come to pass. Because you did not give up, because you remained defiant to the end, we shall not give up either. Cymru am byth.’
‘But who will become prince in my stead?’ The weary freedom fighter gasped, straining heavily with the effort of speaking. These strange interlopers - from another time or place, he could not say - they had to hear his urgent words, even if they were to be his last. ‘The royal Houses of Gwynedd, Powys, Deheubath: I am the last of their lineage. My sons have no heirs. Though we may not not yield to the Enemy, our deepest longings remain unfulfilled. After a thousand years of striving against the invader from the East, what hope remains for the land, for the people, without their prince?’
It was the white-haired elder who responded. ‘We are Meibion Glyndŵr - the Sons of Glyndŵr. All of us. We have no need for princes now. You will never be forgotten, though we know not where lies your grave. What need is there to know where they have buried your body? You cannot bury a dream. In the hearts of your people, you will always remain alive. You will always be our Prince.’
The old man closed his eyes.
‘You will always be our father,’ sobbed Alys. He opened his eyes again, but this time it seemed to him that he was standing there, with his three daughters and their families, looking down upon himself. Of the mysterious visitors, there was neither sight nor sound. He was there, alongside Alys, Janet and Margaret. He was staring down at the body of Owain Glyndŵr, last native-born Welshman to hold the title Tywysog Cymru - Prince of Wales.
The next morning, they laid him to rest beneath an English oak tree - the irony of it! The precise spot that he himself had chosen. No gravestone would mark the site of the burial: though six hundred years and more might pass away, and a new millennium come, still his descendants would honour their promise to provide an inviolate sanctuary for Sychath’s greatest son. They stood in silence as the priest intoned the burial rite in Latin. As he concluded the service, a chill east wind whistled through the creaking branches of the tree, and with a sigh the last remaining leaf broke free and fluttered down into the open grave.
Unmarked by the grieving family, nine further onlookers - muses and witnesses from the future for which he had laid the foundations - watched as the final deed was done. They also said nothing for an age, waiting until the mourners had dispersed. Then at the last one of them turned his gaze heavenward. Slowly, in his deep sonorous voice, he said:
‘When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone / They shall have stars at elbow and foot / And death shall have no dominion.’
Owain Glyndŵr was descended (through the male line) from the Princes of Powys, and (through the female line) from the Princes of Gwynedd and Deheubath: the three main principalities of mediaeval Wales. His rebellion (1400-1415) was the most protracted and most nearly successful of all the Welsh wars of independence waged in the Middle Ages. Although it sounds extraordinary that ‘Wales’ most wanted man’ was able to spend his final years in seclusion just across the border in England, there’s good grounds for believing the story to be true. Descendants of his daughters continue to be around today (most notably the descendants of John and Alys Scudamore).
The nine characters from Owain’s future are King Henry VIII, second king of the Tudor dynasty that was distantly related to Glyndŵr; Prince Charles of Wales (now King Charles III), seen musing on the mixed response to his investiture as Prince of Wales in 1969 at Caernarfon Castle; a witness to the drowning of Tryweryn, a Welsh village destroyed to create a reservoir in 1965 to provide water for England, acting as a spur to Welsh nationalism; a coal miner who reflects on the mining disaster in Senghenydd (1913), the greatest industrial accident in British history, and the Aberfan disaster (1966), the collapse of a colliery spoil tip in Wales on a primary school; Gareth Edwards, widely acknowledged as one of Wales’ greatest rugby players in the 20th century; Gwynfor Evans, President of the nationalist party Plaid Cymru, whose threatened hunger strike was instrumental in securing the launch of a dedicated Welsh-language television channel, S4C, in the UK in 1982; Mary Evans, a 16-year-old girl whose determined quest to obtain a Bible of her own in 1800 led a few years later to the foundation of the British and Foreign Bible society; a descendant of the Welsh colonists who settled in Patagonia from 1865 onwards; and Dylan Thomas, the most famous Welsh poet of the 20th century (here speaking lines from his poem ‘And Death Shall Have No Dominion’, inspired by Romans 6:9). Why nine? Because they’re Muses, of course.
Various Welsh words and phrases are peppered throughout this piece, which functions as a companion-piece to my last effort, ‘The Dragon’s Son’. The most significant of these is ‘Hiraeth’ - a Welsh word that is difficult to translate into English, the nearest approximations being ‘longing’ or ‘homesickness’. The title here - ‘One Last Hiraeth’ is also a play on the English phrase ‘One Last Hurrah’ - which this is, of course, for Owain.
Owain Glyndŵr was born at Sycharth in North Wales in 1354. His burial site (probably in 1415) remains unknown to this day. Unless - perhaps - you’re a Scudamore.
golden gate wishes
crazily enough, the water is blue
i stand there breathe in and out
here i go
i've had enough-
but I see my mama
running up to me with a hug
with a smile
my best friends with me
screaming along to Taylor Swift in the car
but now that feels so far
my little sibling giggling
when i tickle their little feet
all the boy that i decided
that i'd never meet
i see my grandma dying
i wish i'd said goodbye
when i pretend to be asleep
but still peep through my eyes
crying in the shower
but he'd come give me a kiss
tell me it's okay
and that'd i'd be missed
but i guess selfishness got the best of me
but if could go back
i'd tell myslef to smile more
and to love mys- SPLAT!