Accepting Mortality

By Elizabeth Baker Until two years ago, the idea of mortality rested in a distant corner of my mind. But things changed with the death of of our family friend, Lacey Fosburgh—a strong, intelligent, loving woman and mother.

Lacey's death remains a continuous influence in my life. That night at Children's Hospital in San Francisco, I realized the nature of dying. What I witnessed was a calm transition from a tormented time of illness, pain, and sorrow to a freedom without constraints. I don't know if her "soul" departed from her body and went to heaven, or reincarnated in a new body, but, clearly, a change took place.

After long deliberations with doctors and the chief of staff of the hospital, her husband was granted permission to turn off the life support system. Essentially, he returned her to her own being so she could live and die as she would. The forced breathing that had originated from a machine, jolting her chest with each breath, ceased. Her tense muscles relaxed throughout her body, and her face, which had been tight and uncomfortable, eased into a smooth, comfortable one. Ten somber minutes passed. Fourteen of us gathered around the bed in her cramped room, holding her feet, hands, arms, face. Her husband and young daughter sat at the head of the bed. While tears covered her husband's face, her daughter's cheeks remained dry. She was joking with her mother, saying goodbye, telling her not to worry. The monitors' screens gradually reported less and less, and after a few last hints of the activity of life, they went flatline.

Later that night, at Lacey' s house, my mother and two other close women friends washed and dressed her body. I was at the house as well, holding her daughter, who by then had wet cheeks and no mother. The next day, and for two successive days, Lacey lay out in the living room on a table, covered in Indian cloths and surrounded by the first springtime flowers and visiting friends.

A funeral was held at Green Gulch Farm, attended by about 300 people, many of whom spoke to her. The formality of this last observation closed the time of her death, remembered her life and living, and opened us to our mourning.

In my own life, I have always strived to experience life fully and to educate myself as much as possible. It seems that the transience of our lives is what makes life worth living, and that living without trepidation about death can only enhance life. In forming my own concept of dying, I have found in myself a confidence and acceptance of my own mortality and that of others, which helps me live.

Elizabeth Baker is 17 years old. She lived at Green Gulch Farm Zen Center until she was seven, and she will enter her senior year in high school this fall.

PDF of this article