"What do you mean?" he said.
She turned her gaze towards the window. "I didn't know that my children were being abused. Right under my nose. I let them down. I was going through my own
hell and I had no idea what was going on."
As the tears streamed down her cheeks she described her rage at the hurt her late husband had caused her family. She was glad he had died in pain, she
said, and she could never forgive him. Seigan encouraged her to explore her feelings. "You have every right to feel angry... what frightens you about your
anger? ... What happens when you keep it inside?" Her answers came quickly, words, memories, and regrets spilling out. She paused for breath and Seigan
drew the conversation back to her children. Her bedside table was covered with cards and flowers from their visit earlier in the day, handwritten notes of
love and support, arranged neatly beside her.
"Tell me more about them. What does it feel like to be forgiven?" Seigan asked.
She described her three children and how proud of them she is, two of them are married to "wonderful people" and she adored her grandchildren. "I'm blessed
to be loved. I am so grateful to have my children back in my life. I was such a lousy mother and now I'm trying to make up for it," she said, as she wiped
away the tears.
She showed Seigan the photo album that her children made for her, filled with photos of a safari holiday the four of them took together. "I love animals of
all kinds," she said. "I feel so connected to them."
Seigan continued. "Could you imagine that your feelings, especially your anger, are like wild animals: they're part of you. How do you respond to animals
Ursula thought for a moment, running her hand over the photographs. "By respecting them, not being afraid, accepting them for what they are," she answered
It's a reflection that Seigan firmly believes about death itself -- that it's part of the natural process of life. "Each one is different; the conclusion
of a unique story," he said, sitting in his hospital office. He's seen the patients who felt ready, the ones surrounded by love and support, the unhappy,
lonely endings, those in denial, those who fought desperately for their last breath, and those who welcomed it. "I think if we were to ask what is a good
death, everyone would answer that question in a different way," he murmured.
Seigan used the analogy of a sunset to illustrate the elusive quality of death. Everything is heightened and intensified, he observed, emotions and
thoughts and fears are brought to the surface. "When the sun sets there's a lot more color, there's a lot more drama," he said. "But sometimes it can be
minimalist, dark or foggy, obscured by clouds."
Above all, death is something that Seigan believes should be treated with dignity and respect.
Names of patients have been changed. The author had no access to hospital records.