Pale Horse

J.M.W. Turner…”Death on a Pale Horse”…1825

The convulsive mechanism of death may force the tongue outward from the mouth in a grotesque kiss-off to the world. The rattle…the hum, the ratchet of the body toward cessation.

I watched my mother die a gruesome death ….prolonged and tortuous. At the end of it came a quiet, soft peace as a glowing contrast to the gasping and heaving.

It was as if her soul had discharged, and left her spent cartridge behind like a coat one has shed at a party, flung on the bed in disarray. Every day of her life was devoted to someone else: her husband, children, family, neighbors, friends and strangers. She was constantly moving and to find her sitting down was a cause of concern.

Now, lay her discarded body which she had crawled so violently out of.

Now gone.

Do we weep…or smile?

For weeks I prayed that she would be saved, and then, in some teenage fit of compassion, I realized that if she lived, she would have to continue her life of conflict and abuse with my father.

She didn’t deserve that kind of pain. So, I prayed for her to die, which by then, was inevitable.

I let her go because I knew she could never come back… as she lay dying on April Fool’s Day.

My father came home drunk the night she died and screamed at her not to leave him.

He shook her… unwilling to see her escape, trying to stifle her departure.

He raged against the sure victory of death; calling her name again and again, as if he could will her not to leave.

He didn’t succeed.

My mother’s face relaxed, her body ceased its’ convulsions and she let out a long exhale without the returning inbreath, as her soul went wherever.

From that moment forward, my father never took another drink.

The shadow of death scared the hell out of him.

Is there a moral in there somewhere?

John Kennedy had been killed four months earlier. The display of national pain that followed through the deaths of Mr. King, Mr. X, and Robert Kennedy, gave me the impression of my Mother having a place in the funeral procession that was slowly burying everyone that mattered. The world was in upheaval, throwing off the past as a useless relic and the future seemed retrograde even as it was embraced as a renewal.


~ by theoxherd on March 7, 2012.

2 Responses to “Pale Horse”

  1. Your words are beautifully poetic. It was very wise of you to be able to let go of your experience of your mothers death (as it was happening) and that you were able to see that it was an ending of her suffering. Thank you for sharing your experience.


  2. Walter, you remember so much detail from so long ago. Although my mother did not suffer as yours did, by the time she died, she didn’t recognize any of her children. One day I was her mother, she was sure of it. And one day in my kitchen, the day before I drove her to a nursing home, Nia’s steps on the deck startled her, and she said, “Oh, it’s Mom coming up the back steps!”

    I wonder if, when our loved ones have left us behind in their minds and spend their hours in another time, how much we should grieve for them. Where ever their thoughts are, so they are and if it is a return to happy days of their youth, then why are we so heartbroken for them? I think we are heartbroken for ourselves because we know what we have lost and our lost one doesn’t know what has been lost.

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