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Azriel, the Grim Reaper, Anubis, the Angel of Death, you have different names for me. Some fear me, some welcome me, but none of you can escape my kiss of eternal sleep. Some try to run or hide, but they don’t realize how futile resistance is. I am not evil—I come as a blessing.
All creatures struggle in a pitiful fight to live, yet they don’t realize the pain they experience as a result.
I visited a woman yesterday who understood this. She looked like so many do—worn, battered. She lay in a clean white hospital bed, fluorescent lights bleaching out her skin. An IV was taped to her arm, feeding her nutrients she needed to keep the shell of her body alive. Her legs, or what remained of them, were hidden under the white sheets. No one was in the room with her, and she laboriously took breath after breath, the tubes taped to her allowing her to get oxygen. I glided into her room softly and sat in a chair next to her bed. She wearily opened her eyes and turned to face me, noticing my presence.
“You’ve finally come for me?” she asked in a gravelly voice.
“Yes.” The whisper was little more than a hiss of air.
She closed her eyes and leaned back on her pillow. “Thank God,” she sighed.
I smiled kindly. “Are you ready?”
She let out a bark of laughter, which turned into a fit of coughing. “I’ve been ready for years. Dying is easy,” she said, turning her weary eyes to me. “You don’t have to work to die. Living…” she paused. “Living is hard. And I am so tired.” A tear escaped the edge of her eye as she turned her gaze back to the white ceiling.
I reached out my hand, holding it where she could easily reach. “Then let me take your pain away, Margaret. You don’t have to fight anymore, I promise. Your son, Johnny, he’s waiting for you. He’s been looking forward to this.”
Her eyes shone, her face a mask of joy. “Johnny…” she breathed, eyes shining. “Yes…I am ready.” She reached up a withered hand. I took her hand carefully in my ageless one, leaning down to kiss her softly on the forehead.
“Peace, sister,” I whispered, and she let out her final sigh. I pulled my hand, still closed around hers, up. The physical hand dropped to land on the white sheets, purpose fulfilled. A shining hand came up with mine, followed by a gleaming form. The woman stood in front of me, legs whole once more. She looked down at her true form in wonder, no longer ravaged by time. With a shout she leapt into the air, kicking her legs in joy. “There’s someone else here to see you,” I smiled, stepping aside to reveal a young boy.
“Johnny!” she shrieked, running towards him.
“Mommy!” he cheered, jumping up to wrap his arms around her neck.
She buried her face in his hair. “I’ve missed you so much,” she murmured, rocking back and forth in the embrace. She kissed him and set him down with a laugh. “Johnny, look what I can do!” She did a little jig, causing her son to giggle, clapping his hands. The two danced around the room, oblivious to their surroundings.
I watched the nurses and doctor run into the room, blind and deaf to the jubilation. A nurse frantically scrabbled for a machine designed to shock life back into the body. The doctor looked at the machines monitoring the body. “No,” he sighed in defeat. “It’s too late. Let the family know.” He ran a hand through his hair and cursed. The second nurse gently closed the eyelids of what once housed Margaret. The first nurse took a deep breath, composing herself, and left the room.
Soon after, a shell shocked man rushed in, arms around a weeping woman.
I caught Margaret’s shimmering arm, halting her whirling dance. “You have to see this,” I said softly, guiding her over to the bed.
The woman collapsed on the side of the bed, tears streaming down her face, sobs wracking her entire being. “I’m sorry, Mom,” she wept in a broken voice. “I’m so sorry.” Margaret took a step toward her, wrapping her incandescent arms around her daughter’s shaking frame.
“Oh baby, there was nothing to forgive,” she crooned. “You should know that. I’ve always loved you, you never changed that.” The woman’s sobs slowly quieted and the man reached down to put his hand on her shoulder, Adam’s apple bobbing up and down.
“We’ll miss you, Mom,” he choked out. The woman reached up a shaking hand to hold his hand on her shoulder.
Margaret stood up, trailing her shining fingers along her daughter’s back. “Will they ever know?” she asked.
“You’ll see them soon enough,” I said. “You can make preparations for them. Your daughter is going to have another child, a girl, and will live to be 83 before she finally has a heart failure in her sleep. Your son in law will continue until he is 57, when he will be instantly killed by a drunk driver. The time will pass like a heartbeat, and before you know it you'll have your daughter in your arms once more.”
The woman cast her eyes upon the man and woman with pity. “Yes…” she said slowly. “Yes, I’ll be seeing them again soon.” She paused. “Is my husband here, too?” she asked me apprehensively. “He didn’t believe in, well…you know…”
I chuckled and held up a hand, cutting her off. “Don’t worry, your husband is waiting for you eagerly. Earthly beliefs have no place here—it is for those who simply strove to do good, regardless of their holy books or names for God. He’s actually making your room right now, isn’t he, Johnny?”
Johnny beamed. “I almost forgot about Daddy! He’s getting flowers for your room—oh they’re so beautiful, you’ve never seen anything like them!” he babbled. “And the clouds, did you know they actually are made out of cotton candy? No one ever told me that before! And-”
Margaret laughed delightedly and took his hand. “Well you’ll have to show me, won’t you?”
“Yeah! Let’s go!” he chirped, tugging on her hand.
I watched the two fade out of sight as they walked into the Beyond with a smile. I turned, appearing in a little boy’s hospital room. His cancer was drowning him from the inside and he was choking again, racking fits that shook his tiny frame. His coughs slowly calmed, but I saw the blood in his mouth. He shuddered with pain, brow creased. I sat down beside his bed.