Until the End

Elaine and Lauren, 2018

“I’ll stay until the end,” Lauren said. We knew what “the end” meant, but didn’t know when it would come. Doctors said any minute, but my husband hung on. Vic had gone downhill quickly, so our sons still hadn’t arrived. Vic would need heavy sedation to be moved home, so I decided to stay put.

Steve had been there since the night before. Other friends came and went throughout the day, but Lauren and Steve didn’t budge.

Steve rubbed Vic’s naked feet. I put a photo of our teacher Anthony Damiani on Vic’s chest and rose petals from the Dalai Lama. I covered him with a red silk cloth given to him by Sankaracharya in India, remembering that I was also given a silk cloth. Then I understood. The cloths were our cremation shrouds.

Steve sitting near Vic’s cairn, 2008

As Vic gasped, Lauren wiped his face. She swabbed his mouth. She held my hand and Vic’s. Steve asked if he could take photos. “Yes, of course. I’m too lost to remember—and I want to remember.”

Vic held on against cancer for two years but the fight was winding down. He stopped gasping for air as soon as our son Anthony arrived from California, and 45 minutes later, just after midnight, there was a last quiet exhalation. Lauren and Steve fell into exhausted sleep on thin blankets on the linoleum floor while I squirmed in an uncomfortable recliner. At dawn, Lauren helped me wash and swaddle Vic’s body in clean sheets and slide him into a body bag.

That day, Vic’s body was transported to Ithaca. Besides his body, what should be in a cremation box? I hadn’t thought about that. Our other son David had arrived by then after a convoluted plane trip, but my mind was scattered to the four winds, perching on nothing solid. The phone rang.

Om Mani Padme Hum, “Praise to the Jewel in the Lotus”

“Do you want me to come over?” Lauren asked.

“I don’t know what I want.”

“I’ll be there in 20 minutes,” she said. “I’ll meditate while you make your preparations or help with whatever you need.” She arrived with her long brown hair wet from a shower and stayed. She accompanied David and me to the funeral home, witnessed, prayed, and wrote Om Mani Padme Hum on the outside of Vic’s cremation box while we filled it with things he loved like family photos and dark chocolate.

In June, Lauren and I walked through my lupine fields. Other friends called, brought food, wrote the obituary, planned the memorial service, and did so much more. Steve had to go back to work, but Lauren stayed. The friend who planned to lead the memorial service had a family crisis, so Lauren stepped into that spot, too.

That summer, we walked to Vic’s cairn in the forest most days and watched the plants, butterflies, and birds move from spring to fall. We watched the sun move south on the western horizon.

Lauren & Elaine in a redwood tree, 2010

“I didn’t know I could hurt this much,” I said.

“It’s OK to cry,” Lauren said.

We promised to travel any distance to accompany each other through death when it was our turn. We knew only one of us would keep that vow.


In writing this, I’m aware of focusing on just one of the many generous friends who helped us through Vic’s dying days and my grieving days. Both Steve and Lauren stayed until the morning after Vic’s death, but only Lauren and I made that powerful vow. I asked her to read this before posting it since the vow was made at an emotionally loaded moment. I’m glad to know it still stands. For another post about grieving, see The Half-Life of Love: Eight Years Later, For a post about friendship, see Life is Sweeter When We Keep Old Friendships Strong.

  1. Dear Elaine and Lauren,

    This is such a beautiful, heartfelt, moving tribute to Lauren and your deep friendship over many, many years with her Elaine. I’m typing in tears of joy and sadness and appreciation for what a true friend, like Lauren, looks like, for these precious soul-sisters are so rare and hard to come by.

    The love and friendship between women is something that’s been on my mind for a while now. And today, no coincidence I’m sure, I picked up “The Crone” by Barbara G. Walker and have started rereading it. It’s been a few years since I last read it but already I find myself hand in hand with the Divine Feminine walking into Sophia’s olden but golden mine!

    The last book I read was yours and today what with the sharing of such intimate and personal photos I feel myself immediately taken back to your beautiful words and book, “Leaning into Love” and your incredible account of Vic’s death and how you fared in those early years. It’s a book I recommend to my clients time and time again.

    Thank you so much Lauren, if you’re reading, for being such a dear friend to Elaine and for giving us your seal of approval in sharing what happened when your friendship was needed most.

    Love and light, Deborah.

    • Thank you, Deborah. There’s so much more I could say. I was with Lauren when she gave birth to her second daughter and that was a big part of a deep sisterly bonding. A true friend is a precious thing, even if she lives in New Mexico now. The bond doesn’t break. I haven’t read ‘The Crone’ for many years either, but in reading Marion Woodman’s ‘Bone,’ I get the deep friendship Marion had with many women. I got to know some of those women at Marion’s Body Soul Rhythm Workshops. Sophia was always on Marion’s tongue.

      Thank you for the kind words about my book. Thank you for being another soul friend. I’ll ask Lauren to read the comments as she creates a new home and garden in the mountains of New Mexico. I’m glad she’s no longer in California where the fires were too close. She’s one of the lucky ones who had the option to leave. Love to you and Lin and hope as our world continue to struggle with covid and climate change.

      • Thank you. Your lovely words, “The bond doesn’t break.” say it all Elaine. I’m only 23 pages into “The Crone” but wow! I’d forgotten what a powerhouse of a book it is. I’ve decided to spend the rest of the year rereading my favourite books, especially those read many years ago. I’ll start with those first. In sisterhood and in soul.

        • I appreciate your re-reading of my book, too. I never get through reading yours because there are always more poems to explore and remember.

  2. “Until the End” is an apt title for this tender tribute, but you could have also headed this deeply personal essay with “The Friend(s) Who Stayed.”

    You said, My mind was scattered to the four winds. . . .” It occurs to me that true friends not only stay but act, even if it is just a gentle presence or listening with a third ear. They say, “I’ll be there in 20 minutes,” even if you admit in agony, “I don’t know what I want.” I’ve tried to be such a companion to my friend C.

    Lupines have painted the meadows purple in your neck of the woods, one of the vivid images that no doubt has inspired this beautiful post. Thank you, Elaine. ((( )))

    • Marian, I felt the inadequacy of this title, because it doesn’t mention friendship. But the deadline came and out it went. So, I agree. Friends stay and act, but they’re also willing to do nothing if that’s what’s needed. The lupines came and went, but I wrote this piece in lupine season. The gypsy moth infestation has ended with what the forester calls a “population collapse.” After stripping all the leaves from many trees, clearing the forest canopy, and killing some pines, they now have two natural diseases–a virus that isn’t weather dependent and a fungus that proliferates in wet years and only sickens these particular caterpillars and moths. Thankfully, we’ve had a wet summer so far. I was not happy about the state of the forest, but spring green leaves are putting on spring green for a second try on deciduous trees. To quote Joni Mitchell, “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.”

  3. I’m learning that friends, especially those who have walked similar paths, make all the difference between getting lost in grief and seeing a bit of light along a long tedious (but maybe not impossible) trail.

    • I’ve learned that, too, Robin. I’ve also learned that there are times when I have to walk this trail alone and no one fills the place of the one who died. I know you know this, too. Sending you love.

  4. Friendships like these are very rare and one of life’s greatest gifts.

    • They are, Philly. Rare and precious–and she’s becoming an incredible painter with southwest themes now that she lives in New Mexico!

  5. Thank you, Elaine. It is a heart-touching tribute to Vic. I didn’t know that his departure was almost the same time with Al’s. And it is such great luck to have a lovely friend like Lauren with a strong bond, which will never break till the end, and we all knew only one would keep that vow. My heart will be with you and your grief. Yours, Aladin.

    • Thank you, Aladin. I have a similar closeness to Steve, but we didn’t make that same vow. Throughout Vic’s illness, he was there, but afterward he had to go back to work so couldn’t spend hours looking at the lupine flowers with me and wiping my tears. Steve lives 3 miles from me and is very close to my sons, too. I could write a whole other piece about him. It’s amazing to have deep friendships that stay strong even when people move far away as Lauren did with her husband. I think Al was that brother/friend for you, but I hope you’ve made others.

  6. Such a beautiful reflection on your dear friend Lauren who was there for you through thick and thin Elaine. There are not that many of us who can say they have such a friend, or who know they could rely on true sisterhood. Does one have to make that vow? Well, maybe. I can think of a friend I’d like to take that vow with, even if she’s not in my immediate circle. My sister I could – and would. Though it’s unsaid, I think we both know we’d be there for each other.

    • Thank you, Susan. I don’t have any sisters by birth and my only brother died, so friendship feels very important. No, we don’t have to make a vow and it wasn’t planned. It just happened. The word vow wasn’t used, but we promised to do all possible to accompany each other at death–or the one who died first. And we knew it was a vow and we took it seriously. Both of us are fairly relaxed in the birthing and death processes.

  7. Your entry about love ~ of Vic, of Lauren, of life itself ~ is deeply moving. The older I get, the more I am experiencing how precious friendship can be and the depth of the bond that develops over time. I am grateful for the friendship I am developing with you, Elaine, and that you continue to write about Vic’s death.

    • I’m grateful for deep enduring friendships. Lauren emailed this morning that she’ll visit this area for a few weeks in September–if covid isn’t exploding by then. She lives in the west now, so I don’t see her for long periods, but we frequently communicate in a few ways. I’m also grateful for our friendship, Anne. It quietly grows and builds. I hope you aren’t in a burning place.

      Vic’s death is still part of my world, both waking and dream, so it comes up in writing. I often have inner conversations with him. The forest was so decimated by gypsy moth caterpillars (trees as leafless as winter in the middle of the summer), but they’re trying to come back and the caterpillar got a fungus so the hope is this won’t happen next year. Vic loved this forest even more than I do, so I grieve for the trees with my inner Vic. I didn’t raise Monarchs with him and I’m deep into that project now–taking care of them in the nursery and writing about the process from my point of view and also imagining their perspective. There are many Monarchs on my land since this is my 4th year raising them. I’m glad to help them in this small way.

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