'It was a beautiful death,' my friend told me, sipping her sauvignon blanc. She was describing how her mother died.
I hope one day someone can say the same about me.
A man I still mourn died six years ago today. He also had a beautiful death. As he lay dying, he asked the people who loved him most to go and have lunch together, saying he'd be just fine. Then he died peacefully while they were gone, so he wouldn't cause them pain watching him sail away.
He was Captain Frank Oliver, the father of a student of mine way back when I was a young English teacher. He and his wife became my dear friends.
He was the person who showed me -- by example -- that a man could be good, through and through.
Captain Oliver's achievements are amazing (global, inspirational, heroic) but they're not what I remember.
What I remember is this: how dearly he loved to laugh, that he made the best martinis (and called them 'mar-tune-ies'), how he adored his daughter, Alexandra, and constantly fed her mind with books and pens and notebooks and experiences, as if he knew for sure that her mind held the key to who she was.
I remember how he loved welcoming us in to his 'Captain's Bar' in their beautiful historic mansion on Vancouver Island -- but how, when we settled in with a cold drink in our hands, he would say, 'Catherine, tell us all about how you did this thing or that thing...'
He always got us talking about our own lives.
He made everyone feel important. Treasured. Beloved.
He loved to laugh. He saw the best in people. He held our hearts in his hands.
His wife, Judy, loved him with ferociousness and frustration and joy. She still does, I think. She laughed with him always. Years later, I can still hear her saying, 'Oh Frank!!' and laughing like a teenager at his crazy ways. Above everything else, she trusted him, yin to his yang, and I'm guessing she'll belong to him always.
'I talk to Frank every day,' she told me at our favourite Indian restaurant when we were last in Canada, the night before the restaurant was closing forever. 'Even though he's not here, I still believe he is. I feel him with us.'
Frank Oliver was not the kind of man to leave. He was the kind who stayed. Who took care. Who saw the good in people and loved them...stormy weather or calm.
I know we all have our beliefs about death and living, but here are mine. I believe that somehow, in some tangible way, death doesn't separate us from the people we love. It's like flying through grey clouds but knowing that -- above us -- the blue sky is there, closer to the sun.
When you have your own beautiful death, and pass through to the other side, don't be surprised if you meet our beloved Frank Oliver. He'll be the one at heaven's gates, welcoming you into the Captain's Bar, asking you to tell him your story.
Rest in peace, dear Captain. I wish you fair winds and following seas.