By: Michael C. Keith
Being alone is very difficult.
–– Yoko Ono
At 70 years of age Eugene Bickford wondered if he’d be the first to go. At 80 he had seen several friends and two relatives die. At 90 he was the last one left in his close circle. He was alone and felt it would have been better had he passed before everyone else had. Compounding his sense of isolation was the fact that there wasn’t anyone in the elderly care center where he resided with whom he could connect in any meaningful way. A few folks were pleasant enough, but he had nothing in common with them, so essentially he kept to himself. It wasn’t hard to do, since most of the center’s ancient and infirm residents were confined to their beds or wheelchairs.
Eugene was among a handful that could still get around without assistance and this allowed him to stroll the facility’s small but well-attended garden. It’s bright flowers cheered him as much as anything could, and he figured that when he was no longer able to spend this precious time outdoors, he would hasten his end by not taking nourishment. It would be his chosen form of mercy killing, and no one could stop him since he’d specified he was not to be kept alive intravenously.
Soon the time came when he could no longer get around on his own, and he stopped eating as he had contemplated. The staffers and nurses at the elderly home did everything they could to get him to eat, but his resolve was strong and he held to his plan. In a short period of time he was not strong enough to move about freely and eventually was confined to his bed. Hoping to get him to change his mind, the caregivers brought him fresh clippings of the flowers from the garden and placed them around his room. Still he would only consume water and even this he did reluctantly. There was nothing anyone there could do and no one outside of the home who might get the nonagenarian to stop his fasting. The staff could only watch as he faded away.
Eugene’s last moments were spent in reminiscences of his beloved wife when the two were young newlyweds and beginning their long, happy marriage. Although they had been childless, their lives were full of joy as they pursued their careers and mutual as well as individual pastimes. A passion for travel took them around the world and their separate diversions enriched their time as they each joined special interest groups and participated in activities that occasioned trips together to fun locales.
Everything considered, the Bickfords had enjoyed a bucolic existence, but the passing of Eugene’s wife a decade earlier had left him feeling purposeless. His lifelong enthusiasm for nature photography dwindled, as did his fervor for trekking the globe. Nothing sustained his enthusiasm without his spouse.
Eugene finally slipped into a coma and was given the last rights. He held on for another week and then passed away. When the funeral home’s hearse arrived to collect his body, Eugene found himself in the center’s garden roaming the small paths between the vibrant flowerbeds. By the time his remains were driven away, he had been ushered inside an unidentifiable object that sped skyward and vanished without being detected by man or radar.
Welcome, said a voice he’d known and loved more than any in his life. We’re going on a very long and wonderful trip.
Michael C. Keith teaches college and writes stories. http://www.michaelckeith.com