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Con Games: Hereafter Ever After

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Here is how we all want to punch out when the time comes:

"Surrounded by family and close friends, he (she) said farewell to each and every one and then passed on to a better life."

Or put it this way: to be with the ones you love -- to be surrounded by love -- puts an exclamation point on the life you just lived.

Apres ca, who knows? But we do know that the prevailing myth encompassing death is that the final moment somehow outweighs all others, as if that blink between alive and dead defines the life just lived.

I don't know enough to know the difference but I do know that my wife and I just drove 11 hours across the desert to make sure her mother, 87, did not die alone. She was laboring for every breath even with 100 percent oxygen when we arrived at the hospital in the middle of the night. We held the vigil, and in the wee small hours we went to sleep at her mother's home.

The call came the next morning that said she was dead before we could get back to the hospital.

Emma Louise Kramer died at about 9 a.m., as my wife's sister and her husband were stepping on a plane. Thanks to an understanding staff at the hospital, my wife and I held the room with Emma's body until almost two that afternoon -- so her sister, too, could say a proper goodbye to her mother.

My wife felt guilty that we were not there at the precise moment of death but I said that we got to the hospital before she died, and that's what matters. I still believe that's true, but the finality of the moment weighed upon us both in those four hours alone, door closed, with Emma. Death is not a pretty sight but there was a peace about her -- no more struggles, no more worries, no more pain, nothing but what comes next.

I was asked to write an obituary about Emma: Like most all obituaries it gave the facts without telling the story. If you asked me now I would say Emma was separated as a child from her siblings because of financial necessity, that she married well to two very good men who both died too young, the first of cancer six weeks after my wife was born, the second of lung cancer as they both got ready for retirement, that she almost joined the Navy to be with her first husband but instead her sister Lucille enlisted in the Army and left a master sergeant decades later. I would write that she appeared as "Rosie the Riveter" in a story in Life magazine and that she guarded the entrance to the Arizona Republic as if she were guarding the republic for 13 years before finally retiring.

And I would say Emma Louise Kramer died surrounded by those who loved her, and that's all that counts.

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