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Many years ago, my father decided to write down his reflections about death, specifically his own, and how he would want people to feel about it. He chose to write down the first verse of an Alfred Lord Tennyson poem Crossing The Bar and then he decided to add a couple lines of his own. I don't think Tennyson will mind. In fact, they've probably already discussed it by now.

Tennyson wrote, sunset and evening star and one clear call for me. And may thereby no moaning of the bar when I put out to sea. My father added, we have God's promise that I have gone on to a better world where there is no pain or sorrow. Bring comfort to those who may mourn my going.

My father never feared death, he never saw it as an ending. When I was a child, he took me out into a field at our ranch after one of the Malibu fires had swept through. I was very small on the field, looked huge and lifeless, but he bent down and showed me how tiny new green shoots were peeking up out of the ashes just weeks after the fire had come through. You see, he said, new life always comes out of death. It looks like nothing could ever grow in this field again, but things do.

He was the one who generously offered funeral services for my goldfish on the morning of its demise. We went out into the garden and we dug a tiny grave with a teaspoon and he took two twigs and lashed them together with twine and formed a cross as a marker for the grave. And then he gave a beautiful eulogy. He told me that my fish was swimming in the clear blue waters in heaven and he would never tire and he would never get hungry and he would never be in any danger and he could swim as far and wide as he wanted and he never had to stop, because the river went on forever. He was free.

When we went back inside and I looked at my remaining goldfish in their aquarium with their pink plastic castle and their colored rocks, I suggested that perhaps we should kill the others so they could also go to that clear blue river and be free. He then took more time out of his morning, I'm sure he actually did have other things to do that day, and patiently explained to me that in God's time, the other fish would go there, as well. In God's time, we would all be taken home. And even though it sometimes seemed a mystery, we were just asked to trust that God's time was right and wise.

I don't know why Alzheimer's was allowed to steal so much of my father -- sorry -- Before releasing him into the arms of death, but I know that at his last moment, when he opened his eyes, eyes that had not opened for many, many days and looked at my mother, he showed us that neither disease nor death can conquer love.

He may have in his lifetime come across a small book called Peace of Mind by Joshua Loth Lieberman. If he did, I think he would have been struck by these lines, then for each one of us, the moment comes when the great nurse, death, takes man, the child, by the hand and quietly says, it's time to go home, night is coming. It is your bedtime child of Earth.


A Project of:

The NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY production of REAGAN'S CHLIDREN: An Opera-Oratorio is partially supported by a grant from the Center for Interdisciplinary Research in the Arts Committee at Northwestern University.

REAGAN'S CHLIDREN: An Opera-Oratorio is partially supported by a Community Arts Assistance Program grant from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency.

REAGAN'S CHILDREN: An Opera-Oratorio •