Posted by: syncopated1 | February 5, 2012


The drive from Bar Harbor to Damariscotta had been easy; I made good time, the roads were dry for the most part: even though it was unseasonably warm for January in Maine we had no snow to melt anyway.
I sat in my car for a moment collecting myself. This was the first time in three years I was visiting my mentor, John, and his mother, Ellen, and I had no idea what to expect. Since I met them I could count on John to regale me with bright stories of his youth and well varied life. Ellen would vary between three topics: finding me a suitable wife (the last attempt had been a 55 year old doctor in the Bangor area!), politics, and very cleverly coming up with new excuses as to why I should get her a glass of wine. Ellen was 90. And amazing.
But Ellen was fading, she had been for years. She had been living with John (whom she only ever called Johnny) for the last 10 years, and he had lovingly cared for her on every one of those days. Except the few when he went away on business and I had stayed with Ellen so she wouldn’t be alone in their little house. Ellen trusted me, and I was extremely touched that she never forgot who I was, having known me only a short span and especially as she began to forget other details.
But today was different. I was possessed of the knowledge that this was more than likely the last time I would ever see Ellen again. John sent me an email late on Friday stating that she was slipping faster and anyone who wanted to visit her had best do so soon. Never in my life had I deliberately chosen to spend a day with someone standing on the brink of passing away. When my own father’s health had failed him I had been at school and he demanded that I stay there.
Still nervous, I took a deep breath and left my car. Locking it out of habit, I walked up the path to the entrance of Cove’s Edge; the best nursing facility in the state (at least I knew Ellen was receiving the best attention available). I took myself to her room and was pleasantly surprised to find that John and Ellen were not alone.
Talking quietly with him about the Battle of Round Top in which one of the Miller ancestors had played a key role was his nephew Brian, a relaxed but quick and intelligent man, who had flown up from D.C to make the same final visit that I was. Also with them was John’s grand-niece Megan, a very energetic young woman, practical and efficient in word and act like most Mainers of that area. Introductions were made, even though it was clear that John had already told them all about me. We conversed amiably while Ellen dozed gently in her bed. In a short while we were joined by Brian’s daughter, Emily, a nursing student at Husson, and Brian’s brother, Fred (Megan’s father), who came in so quietly on her heels that we almost missed his arrival.
Neither Fred nor I said much, content to listen to the others from the sidelines and watch Ellen. I learned that Fred, a very practical man like his daughter, had been spending a great deal of his time with his grandmother and John at Cove’s Edge. As had Megan, and Emily had been visiting on weekends when she could.
We sat together in that nursing home together for almost six hours, breaking only to go get dinner at a local joint. But the entire afternoon and evening flew by in the warm glow of true companionship. Ellen woke up from time to time and all attention shifted to her, and then she would drift off again and we would revel with each other in the memories and stories we could share of our time spent with her through the years.
When, at 9:30, it came time for me to take my leave and begin the long trek back up the coast I said my goodbyes. I thanked John and the others for having always welcomed me as one of their own, a gift I have always striven be conscious of.
With no one left to say good bye to but Ellen I moved to her bedside and leaned over her slight frame. Lightly kissing her on the forehead, she woke and I said to her, “Ellen, I love you. Be well, and I’ll see you again.” I didn’t add a “soon” or any sort of time frame to it, because I had no idea of when I would see her again. She didn’t say anything in return, but she looked up at me with a sudden burst of clarity, and I am certain that she heard everything I said to her and she understood. Ellen and I will see each other again one day. In this life or the next.
I hugged John one last time and assured him that I would call and check up on him and Ellen. I left as quietly as I had come, and upon reaching my car the moment I had shared with Ellen finally overcame my control, and I cried. I did nothing to fight it, didn’t even start the car. I just sat there and cried until I was done.
On the drive home I spent a great deal of time thinking about that afternoon I had just left. I was blessed, not many people get an opportunity to spend an afternoon in the presence of four generations of the same family. Even fewer still are amongst a family that is bound by such love as the Miller family. From Ellen to Megan and every cousin, aunt, uncle, brother, sister in between I have only encountered rich love and devotion to each other.
I can hardly describe what it was like to not only be around that, but also welcome within it. Further, I can only imagine how it must have been for Ellen to be surrounded by all of her children like that.
Ellen peacefully passed away on the following Tuesday afternoon. She had been guided to the very edge of the phenomenon we call death by the love and care of those she had spent a long, long life guiding herself. And I very much feel that, bolstered by that love and guidance, she had finally, and deliberately chosen to take the step and move on to the portion or state of her existence.
And I had been allowed to be a part of that.
Thank you.



  1. Big hugs, Skylar. I’m sorry for your loss. It sounds like the love surrounding Ellen was really tangible and I am sure that she could feel that and it meant the world to her. What a peaceful way to make that final transition. Much love to you.

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