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.