“Alzheimer’s, early stages,” said Dr. Moore. He reached over his tidy desk and patted Edith’s clenched hand, “I know that’s bad news;” he paused and sighed, “but the good news is that we can mitigate and delay many of the symptoms and you still have a long time.” As he droned on describing treatment options Edith let her thoughts wander, glad that she could still control them. She had watched her mother die of this same affliction and she knew, without even going through an analysis, that she was not going to put her family through the same pain.
As she drove home she began to make plans. “I must get my affairs in order, I must clean out my belongings and then,” she paused as she stopped in a school zone and watched school children crossing the street, their youthful voices carefree and shrill. A dog bounded down the sidewalk and her mind drifted as she mused that when he was dying his owners would “do the right thing” and “put him out of his misery.” Dr. Moore hadn’t mentioned that possibility, or had he? Edith couldn’t remember. When the road was clear she drove again, and spoke to her car radio, “How and when will I be put out of my misery?” She often talked to the car radio and now told it “The problem is when?” again she stopped and then took up the thread of her thoughts again. “It can’t be too long or I’ll be too far gone.”
Edith felt relief in knowing and experienced a renewed burst of energy. Some things were easy like rewriting her will; others were more difficult including cleaning out her clutter – accumulations of possessions of a lifetime. Daily she fought to conceal her forgetfulness writing herself notes to remind herself to remember to do things. Sometimes she agonized over her decision, momentarily questioning herself whether what she planned to do would be considered “ethical”. She longed to tell her children, but knew that such a disclosure would be tantamount to aborting her scheme. There would be tears and recriminations and discussions about the sanctity of life and little said about the quality. “After all,” she repeatedly reminded herself, “when the active mind is dead there is no meaningful life.”
The last place to clean out was the attic. Here, in a far corner, she found an old box of her mother’s clothing. Inside was a shiny black fox pelt. It was set into an article of women’s clothing so popular in the 1930s, with the mouth transformed into a clip, and the eyes replaced by shiny yellow glass orbs. Edith took it downstairs to her bedroom. She stood before her mirror and wrapped it around her shoulders. She clipped the mouth onto the white-tipped tail and marveled at the silkiness of its soft caress.
She took to wearing the fur all the time. It came to symbolize her impending death; its sleek blackness wrapped around her shoulders in soft embrace. The last step of her journey didn’t take much planning as she knew that it had to be clean, so that nothing despoiled the pelt which, she wrote, was to be buried with her. The day she chose for her departure, was the anniversary of her mother’s death, and turned out to be one of those brilliant sunny spring days when most living things celebrate life. At sunset she filled the car with gas and drove to a secluded spot in her favorite park overlooking the river. She attached a hose to the exhaust and wedged it into the rear window and then sat in the driver’s seat stroking her coat and listening to the soft purr of the engine.
She was already beginning to feel drowsy when a brown moth with yellow patterned wings flew out of her surrounding pelt. A sun ray streamed in through the car window and silhouetted it in a radiant halo. For a moment she thought that she ought to try to help it; but by now her hands felt heavy and all she could do was gaze and marvel at its beauty. As she watched, it fluttered for a moment, magnificent in its struggle, then wilted and lay still. She closed her eyes and embraced her own imminent flutter and ensuing stillness with a deep sigh of content.