When Matter Doesn’t Matter Anymore

When matter doesn’t matter anymore, it changes into energy.

I first wrote that some fifteen years ago in an essay about Sally a friend of mine who had taken her life. She had planned on it for at least the three years I knew her; told me that she didn’t want to live past 70.

“The women in my family don’t do well after 70,” she said.

That’s when the vagueries of aging seemed to get them. Being a gambling woman, she wanted to fold her hand while she was still ahead.

Sally had an antic sense of things. She took the pills a day or two before her seventieth birthday, just before mailing out (snail mail – email was still in its infancy 15 years ago) a farewell letter to her friends. An afficianado of eros, her letter concluded,

“And those of you familiar with my birthdate will recognize that the timing of my exit allows me to claim as my epitaph:

Toujours soixante-neuf!

Always 69.

I neither approve nor disapprove of what Sally did. I had decided when she first told me of her plans that I would do neither. I knew it would be of no use trying to talk her out of it and I wanted to keep the lines of communication open. Instead I would say to her that if she got to 70 and decided she wanted to give herself a bit more time, that would be fine with me.

About a week before Sally’s birthday, we had dinner with our mutual friend Jeanette who was slowly but surely declining into Parkinsons. I knew the deadline was approaching so I asked Sally as we headed our separate ways into the San Francisco night, “So, is this goodbye?”

“You can’t get rid of me that easily,” she said, and smiled her Sally smile.

I thought perhaps she had decided to give it more time. But, she stuck to her plan. I got her letter a few days later: the salutation: “To those I love –“; the closing, “Love and goodbye, Sally”.

I did not really understand what Sally meant – about having to live with the debilitation that can come with aging until I watched my mother’s struggle with emphysema. She went very quickly from being physically vital, to struggling for each breath she took.

She had her idea of when to fold them as well. For her, it came when she had to face the prospect of recovering in a nursing home from a broken hip, her health already so compromised that whatever life was left to her would most likely never happen outside an institution. So, since death was inevitable, she eschewed the antibiotics and welcomed pneumonia as the friend who would save her from what was to her a humiliating end.

Both women took matters into their own hands. Took control of their final destinies. Determined the difference for them between what was living their life and merely surviving it, and acted on it.

It was difficult for me to watch my mother’s struggle, for I knew that somewhere in the back of her mind was the question, “Well, when is enough, enough?”

For Sally, I don’t believe that was a question she wanted to ponder. I think she was afraid that once she went down that path, she would hold on too long; that she would not do well in the dance between fear of dying and fear of living. So, she took action before she had to dance that dance.

Sally appeared to me in a dream shortly after she died. She was laughing at the paramedics who were trying to revive her. She had no regrets about her choice. I wondered if she, as an atheist, was a bit annoyed that there was some kind of “life” after life. She wouldn’t say.

About a month after my mother died, while sitting on the patio of a local restaurant, a truck lumbered by towing a speedboat with the name Betty Jean – my mother’s name – painted on its side. It’s not exactly that I think she got reincarnated as a speedboat, but heading out of town for a good time on the delta was not out of sync with who my mother was.

Here is what I concluded with Sally many years ago: She asked that her ashes be added to a friend’s compost pile. Very much in keeping with Sally’s antic let’s-get-real sense of things (Did I mention that she took her vibrator to Mr. Fix It in Mill Valley when it stopped working?), so I assume they were.

My final image then is of life feeding life, even after it’s gone.

When matter doesn’t matter anymore, it changes into energy.

2 thoughts on “When Matter Doesn’t Matter Anymore

  1. two years nearly since my mother died of the same thing yours did. her last words to me were, “No more fighting now.” I have, for the last 22 months, wondered exactly what she meant. Was she talking about her own struggle, or how we both argued/debated on everything from Socrates to socks? She was my best friend. I miss her. When I read about your mother, or anybody’s mother, i remember mine.


  2. Your mother’s last words are so poignant. It sounds like she left peacefully, ready to go.

    I wrote in another essay about my mother (not posted on my blog) that my mother left as a leaf takes its leave. I think your mother’s passing was the same way.

    That’s a real gift to you.


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