Thinking about that last Monday evening, I remembered that I told John that I was going to teach my friend’s literature class the next day on Tuesday, that I wouldn’t be gone long, and that I would be back as soon as I could. I had a very comfortable bed in his room where I had spent Sunday night.
For four days, there had been a steady stream of visitors, and I’m sure that John was exhausted–(I’m assuming that even though he was comatose, he could hear at least some things.) Now I wonder if John thought, well, she’ll be fine, I’m out of here. So he waited for me to caress him one last time, and then he took in a deep breath and he did not breathe out. John died his own death and it was a very good death. This was something that Rilke had written about in The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge (1910): the importance and the difficulty of dying one’s own death.
In his book, Rilke on Death and Other Oddities, John quotes passages from Rilke that speak to the unity of life and death; we can’t have one without the other. “We must learn to die: all of life is in that,” Rilke wrote. When John made the decision not to have major surgery, he accepted the death he had talked about and studied about for his whole life. He said, “I’m going to miss life.” Indeed.