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The death of Katharine

Identifier

011149

Type of spiritual experience

Background

This is the author's own sister.

A description of the experience

Opening Heaven’s Door – Patricia Pearson

I was lost, but Katharine [her sister] wasn't. She knew very well that she was dying, and more than that. Forty-eight hours before she died, she told us she was on her way. Literally, as in: "I am leaving." How did she know? Hospice could have been two months or six months or two years. If nothing else, hope could have swayed it that way, and she'd subsisted on hope for the first eleven months of her illness…………..

Katharine woke up one morning and, looking decidedly perplexed, said to Joel, who lay disheveled on the cot beside her "l don't know how to leave." It was as if she were asking how to water-ski or make bread dough rise. Clearly, she didn't feel anymore the way that we felt, with our thirsting ecstatic joy to find she was still alive each day when we raced to her side. She teased Joel that he looked like a drug addict in his hollow-eyed disarray.

She was present, but also elsewhere. Katharine had removed herself to some new plane of consciousness where we were unable to follow.

That afternoon, she gazed through the French doors of her room for a long time with a look that seemed to me, sitting beside her and stroking her hand, to be slightly exasperated. Vexed.

"What are you looking at?" I asked her.

She lifted her arm languidly and pointed in the direction of the garden, remarking: " Hapless flight attendants. "

We all laughed in surprise. Just then a hospice volunteer wheeled in a trolley of snacks.  Katharine alertly turned to this new visitor and asked: "What's the situation?"

Said the hospice volunteer with brisk cheer: *Well, the situation is that we have lemon tarts, Nanaimo bars, and oatmeal cookies. All home baked."

My sister regarded her as if she were insane.

"I mean," Katharine clarified, clearing her throat, for her lungs were becoming congested, "'when do I leave?"

Joel, masterfully suppressing his grief about losing the love of his life after only three years, assumed a comical Indian accent (they'd met in New Delhi) and, wobbling his head, offered: "That is for you and God to decide."

Katharine left the next night, in silence and candlelight, while I lay with my cheek on her chest and my hand on her heart, feeling her breathing slow and subside like the receding waves on an out-going tide. Joel sat on one side of the bed, my sister Anne on the other. The nurse came in, barefoot with a flashlight, to confirm death with a deferential, wordless nod, and we anointed her body in oil and wrapped her in silk. Anne, the only actively religious one of my siblings, offered a Bahai prayer. The staff lit a candle in the hospice window.

My mother; my eldest sister, Hilary; and Katharine's godmother, Robin, three thousand miles westward in Vancouver, all awoke in their beds, attuned to some new-sounding clock.

The source of the experience

Ordinary person

Concepts and Symbols used in the text or image

Activities