KATE'S LETTER
Dear Family and Friends of Betsy--

I am writing to share with you the story of Betsy leaving her body in her home in Boulder Creek on Sunday afternoon (August 18) at 4:30 PM. I had the honor of being with her during the final process. On the way to Betsy & Nick's house I took a "turtle journey" up "Channel Nine" as Betsy called Highway Nine a few weeks ago. I had to deal with my own impatience by slowing down and accepting the delay of the heavy Sunday traffic.

Ida had called and told me that Nick had gone over to Steve Kelly's in Zayante to help build the cremation coffin. Ida & Nick had sat vigil with Betsy all Saturday night and both fell asleep close to dawn. When I arrived out of my August beach fog, the sun was shining on Betsy's deck and the flowers seemed a little brighter, the greens of the trees a little greener. A palpable energy bubble seemed to surround her house. Through the window I saw Betsy, her face open, relaxed and staring at her sister Ida. And Ida's head was covered by a paper grocery bag!

Under the bag, Ida was talking on the phone with her son Colin in New Jersey. Having been with many women in the transition phase of labor I knew immediately that Ida was matching Betsy breath for breath and she was hyperventilating, and so to reduce oxygen loss she was recirculating her own breath. I gave her a smaller bag to hold to her mouth so she would be able to maintain eye contact with Betsy.

We both settled into a silent space of breathing in rhythm with Betsy. Her spirit felt very close and safe--there was no fear or distraction in the room. Betsy was taking about 30 shallow breaths per minute with a long pause after each out breath. Her feet and hands felt cold. The Chinese say that when someone dies the heat rises up the body. I could feel the heat moving up her legs, chased by the cold. Ida stroked her face and continued to match her breathing.

Shortly after 4 PM Betsy's respiration slowed to 15 breaths per minute and we considered calling Nick. I called Steve's but Nick had already left and was on his way home. I whispered in Betsy's ear that Nick was on his way and that he would be home in 15 minutes. A few minutes later her breath became very shallow and slowed to 9 little breaths per minute. As the heat moved up towards her heart, goosebumps rose all over her body. Then she took three rhythmic breaths and a long pause, 30 seconds or more. Then one little breath. A minute passed before her next little breath. Then two minutes passed without a breath and Ida made a fluttering motion with her index finger over the space above Betsy's clavicle where her pulse had been so visible.

At 4:30 PM we sat silent, unsure. I put my ear to her breast and listened. No heartbeat. No breath. We sat.

At 4:34 Nick came down the path, a bag in his arms, and Ida went out to greet him. He came in and congratulated Betsy on her passing. He and Ida discussed his missing Betsy's last breath and he was fine with how it happened. He had stopped at the hardware store in Ben Lomond to buy two more wooden pegs for the coffin; otherwise he would have been with us.

A few phone calls were made to family, Hospice and to the Betsy phone tree. Nick went to town on an errand. Diana Troxell arrived with a bottle of good Irish whiskey. Estelle brought a basket of food and water, Maggie (from next door) brought sage in an abalone shell, and Shasta arrived with her gifted hands. A circle of women, a few of Betsy's closest friends. We sage-smudged, sang, prayed, and washed Betsy's body, anointed her with essential oils. Gave her fingers their last manicure. Dressed her in a purple cotton dress that Ida had given her. We cried. Diana sang an improv song about sisters.

Carefully we lined the white pine coffin with a red vinyl banner left over from the April Fool's Parade and laid her inside with jewelry, flowers, silk cushions and the little stuffed bat she kept by her bed. We collapsed the hospital bed and carried it outside. The coffin was placed between two chairs in front of the window where the bed had been. People began to arrive with flowers and visted around the coffin. A little sipping of whiskey, drinking water, eating snacks.

Stories and laughter and tears. Children and adults. A small circle. An almost full moon and bright stars above the dark forest. The quiet of the valley night interrupted by the occasional sound of a passing car on Highway Nine.

--KATE BOWLAND




back