Homer Alaska - Opinion

Story last updated at 7:23 PM on Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What matters most is what comes before final chapter

Off the beat news


McKibben Jackinsky

As a writer, I'm familiar with closing paragraphs. They're the ribbons that, written correctly, perfectly tie up everything already said, leave a lasting impact and clearly state "the end."

Recently, however, I received a three-part lesson in closing paragraphs not covered in any class I've taken or writing assignment I've done. It went beyond paper and ink, beyond what ears can hear. It went, instead, to the heart of the matter.

Toward the end of 2011, my 15-year-old cat Radar's health began deteriorating rapidly. The situation was compounded by her battle against my attempts to administer medication prescribed by the compassionate crew at Homer Veterinary Clinic. I was warned the time was coming to decide between my need for Radar's companionship and her increasing suffering.

That awareness made me mindful of each moment. Her trotting to the door to greet me. Walking between my husband's lap and mine during evenings when we read or watched television. Sitting in the hallway, looking from us to the bedroom with the clear message it was getting late and we needed to call it a day. Waking me each morning with an insistent meow that said she wanted breakfast and she wanted it now.

Shortly after the first of the year Radar and I reached our closing paragraph. Recognizing we were at the end, I purposefully considered which memories to lock safely in my heart as I told her good-bye.

Around the middle of January, my cousin and I paid a final visit to our friend Edna.

Edna was the woman with whom, years ago, I shared my one and only experience waitressing, a role at which I proved horribly inadequate. When I got flustered by breakfast and lunch crowds at the Inlet View, Edna reminded me to simply take orders one at a time. When I got impatient with people's pickiness, Edna would manage a smile while preparing a meal to their liking. In my first years of single parenthood, Edna boosted my self-confidence. Years later, as board members of Ninilchik Native Descendants, it was to Edna I turned for feedback when preparing presentations on village history.

Following a diagnosis in December that an illness was taking her life, Edna left the hospital for the familiar surroundings of home, family and friends. A granddaughter moved in, ensuring Edna had the care she needed and that friends did not overwhelm her with lengthy, unscheduled visits.

During our visit, we soaked up the hospitality and warmth for which Edna was known. We basked in her presence. Her smile. The softness of her hands holding ours. The sound of her voice and its subtle accent identifying her as someone born in Ninilchik village when Russian was the first language. We shared stories of days past.

When my cousin called to tell me Edna had slipped peacefully away, her family at her side, I was instantly aware of the immeasurable gift her presence had been in my life.

Also in January, I received word my Aunt Margaret had suffered a stroke. She was one of my dad's sisters and I got to know and appreciate her when I spent my sophomore year of high school living with her and Uncle Al in Germany.

The woman had an impressive sense of style. She could cook. She could sew. She took me to my first opera. She loved to travel and had been to places all over the world. She had a fantastic laugh. Although her final years were spent in Reno, Nev., we maintained contact by phone, mainly her calls to discuss concerns about my dad's health.

In the early morning hours of Feb. 2, I was awakened by the ringing of my phone. My cousin was calling to say Aunt Margaret's life was rapidly slipping away. She offered to hold the phone to my aunt's ear so I could speak some parting words.

But what words would be appropriate? What did I want her to hear? What did I need to say?

I recall little of what I said as my cousin placed the phone so Aunt Margaret could hear my voice. What I do remember being aware of was that she was on one end, I was on the other and stretching between us was a lifetime of shared experiences.

Then it struck me. The closing paragraph may be the final word, the summing up, the sign that reads "the end." The real treasure, however, is everything that comes before.

McKibben Jackinsky is a reporter for the Homer News.