Your father is dead, she said. There was a commotion in the next room, my mother wailing, the aunts and uncles wailing. Cigar smoke. Tires screeching outside on wet pavement.
She came and sat on the edge of my bed. So quiet. So still, dressed all in grey.
They’ll lie to you for a bit, tell you he’s sick, that he’s in the hospital, but he’s dead.
Who are you? I asked. I took the tissue she offered and blew my nose. I had been crying. Alone. No one had come to comfort me.
Oh, she said. I’m sorry. I’m Death.
I smelled her then, like a cold wind blowing down from the arctic, clean, sea swept, barren.
She let me cry some more then said, I don’t mean to rush you, but we have a lot of ground to cover before they come to tell you the truth.
I blew my nose, sat up to listen.
You are so young, she said. It is such a hard time to lose this man you love so much.
I cried again and she sat perfectly still waiting until I could compose myself.
I’m cold, I said.
She nodded. Of course you are, and I’m sorry that I cannot warm you. She placed one finger tip on my arm and the snows of the North beat through her pulse.
But, she said, I have sisters. And then there were five more women crowded into my small pink bedroom, a twelve year old’s room with the last of my stuffed animals and the first of my bras and makeup.
This is my sister Life, she said. We were born conjoined and only through a great effort were we able to separate ourselves. Life smiled and wrapped me in a shawl made from sunshine and praise and I was warm.
And this, Death said, is my sister Sorrow. Sorrow bowed her head in greeting and spoke in a whisper. I will always be with you, she said, even when she –and here she nodded to the sister dressed in gold, even when Joy has come to dress you.
And I’m Grief, said the one who wept quietly in the corner. Sorrow and I will walk with you, and for a while we will pick out your friends and lovers, the ones who can hold you while you mourn.
But, said Joy, embracing her nearly transparent sister Happiness, she and I are never apart. We follow Sorrow when she weeps and Grief when she wails.
And now Life lit a green glowing light around us all and I was surprised to see that she had included Death.
Did you think, she asked, we would exclude our big sister Death? She has taught us everything we know about living, and when it is your time she will teach you to kick off your shoes and walk barefoot through the door.
“Love is all we have, the only way that each can help the other.” Euripides