[ultimate_heading main_heading=”Epiphany of a Dying Man, short story by Don Crawford – Issue.XXVI : March 2017 ” main_heading_color=”#1e73be” sub_heading_color=”#8224e3″ spacer=”line_with_icon” spacer_position=”bottom” line_style=”dotted” line_height=”1″ line_color=”#1e73be” icon_type=”custom” icon_img=”id^48|url^http://ashvamegh.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Ashvamegh-ICO.jpg|caption^null|alt^Ashvamegh Journal Icon|title^Ashvamegh ICO|description^null” img_width=”48″ main_heading_style=”font-weight:bold;” main_heading_font_size=”desktop:34px;” line_width=”3″ margin_design_tab_text=””]…. ….[/ultimate_heading]

Introduction to the Author:

Don Crawford received his Master’s Degree from U.C. Berkeley during the heyday of the sixties. During his 40-year clinical experience, he studied human behavior from a variety of positions. During his career years. he dabbled in writing mostly short stories and some essays. He has a book for sale on createspace.com, #4461567, titled The Sage Institute. He is currently retired and continues to write mostly articles for LinkedIn Post about the evolution of the human race.



The hour was late afternoon and the sun’s rays filtered through the large window in his bedroom. He asked Katie to pull back the shades so he could view the sun one last time. He had accepted the idea that the sun was the source of all life on this planet, like the Egyptian god, Ra. It contained the Life Force that continuously pumped the blood throughout our bodies, and in our lungs providing us oxygen for mobility to work and love and create; that precious oxygen which he was being deprived of because of his disease. If it were really true that smoking had caused his disease, he had long been committing suicide. He shivered and discovered that a body dies from the feet up. He asked Katie to put another blanket over his legs. For over an hour, he faded in and out between lucidity and being lost in his memories.

Eventually, everything that is born must die. Nord Sentis was no exception. As he lay dying of lung cancer, his thoughts roamed over the entire sixty-eight years of his life; in his opinion too short a life because he wasn’t ready to die. His wife of thirty-five of those short years was the woman of his dreams, but there were days that turned sour like spoiled cream. Katherine was nine years younger and remained in reasonably good health. Their two grown children, a son and a daughter, had long ago departed the family home seeking their own independent existence. For every invitation, they found reasonable excuses not to appear.

Nord Sentis was foreign born, having immigrated to America from Czechoslovakia at age sixteen with his spinster aunt and her adopted daughter, Lavinia. His aunt Gerta, his mother’s childless sister, was nearing forty and during the war had adopted Lavinia, who was three years younger than Nord. Gerta had worked for Lavinia’s parents and when they were killed, she took the girl in. Nord’s and Lavinia’s parents had been killed when Germany invaded Czechoslovakia early in WWII. After Czech paratroopers killed Reinhard Heydrich, a high ranking German officer and the architect of the holocaust, Germany sought savage revenge on the Czech Republic and it wasn’t until 1945 that American and Russians troops rescued the Czech Republic from Germany.

               After arriving in New York in 1948, his Aunt Gerta secured a live-in job as all around housekeeper, cook and caretaker for an elderly widow of a wealthy publisher of a New York magazine. Mrs. Highbritten was childless and had no other relatives and needed someone she could trust to take care of her and the large mansion. In her husband’s will, the wife was to live in the family home with full living expenses until her death; the remainder of his estate was immediately endowed to Columbia University, to be used as tuitions for needy journalism students in the School of Journalism. After the death of the widow, the house was to become a part of his endowment.

              Nord struggled learning English but at age nineteen graduated high school and immediately enrolled in the endowment program at the Columbia School of Journalism. He graduated four years later, at age twenty-three. The competition for local jobs dissuaded him to move westward; he also had a strong urge to see more of his adopted country. During his stay at Columbia he had studied and became a naturalized citizen, and got his first much-valued USA passport.

Leaving his aunt and Lavinia and Mrs. Highbritten behind, he left New York alone in his used Volvo. His first stop was Houston, Texas, where he secured a job with the Houston Journal. They were glad to get a graduate from Columbia even without any experience. He covered several of the roaring fires in Texas City and a couple of hurricanes off the Gulf Coast. Six years later, he grew restless and resigned.

              He had read a lot about the fabulous Las Vegas and decided to visit there on his way to California and the west coast. He wanted to see the sights from Vancouver, British Columbia to San Diego. On his way to Las Vegas, he had stopped overnight in Albuquerque and was taken with its Hispanic culture and architecture. He inquired about a job with the Albuquerque Journal and was told after his visits to the west, they had a job waiting for him. They had an old-timer who was retiring in two weeks, so Nord’s timing was just perfect. He continued his journey and had to use real will-power not to lose his savings in Las Vegas. Vegas had too much glitter and commercialism to suit his immigrant character, so he quickly moved on, driving through Idaho, and up the coast through Oregon and Washington and north of Bremerton, entered Canada. Then, down through California and circling back through Arizona to New Mexico.

               By the end of his extended trip and the expenditure of a big hunk of his savings, he was happy to settle down in Albuquerque. He found a small furnished apartment on Grant two blocks from UNM and settled in. He was now thirty years old. He had satisfied his urge to see America and eager to get to work. For the next thirty-five years, he dedicated his life to his journalistic tasks.

                           Three years after settling in the Duke City, he met and married Katherine Gallegos. Over the next six years they had two children; a boy and a girl. He felt he had made a full transition from the Czech Republic.


The year was now 1999, and Nord had been retired for three years. Some of the recent articles in the Journal, which he read every day, described the racial cleansing by the Serbs against the Croatians, the United States preparing for the coming millennium, and current prices in Albuquerque The interest rates were at 8.50%. The average house costs over $130,000 dollars and rents averaged over $600 a month. Gas prices were $1.22 cents a gallon and new cars sold for something like $21.000. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at over 11000 for the first time. In Europe, the Euro currency was introduced on January 31st, and in Great Britain the minimum wage was set at 3.60 pounds per hour. Devastating earthquakes has killed over 14,000 in Turkey, and Ford Motor Company had acquired Volvo of Sweden. William Clinton was on his second term as President. The Lewinsky scandal was four years behind him, but predictably it wasn’t the last of his libido troubles. And, the world population had passed the six billion mark.

Katherine Gallego had worked for several years as a clerk in the University of New Mexico Book Store. Her parents had come from Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, legally, when Katie was seven years old. Along with her two older brothers, they all became naturalized citizen. The family first lived in McAllen, Texas, where they had crossed over from Reynosa. After several years of struggling to find permanent work, the father moved the family to Albuquerque, New Mexico where the he found work in construction. After high school graduation, the two sons joined the Marines and after finishing boot camp were sent overseas. After graduating high school, Katie attended the local community college, gaining her AA degree in Office Procedures. That was enough to secure her a good job at UNM. She enjoyed her job and kept working even after meeting and marrying Nord; a frequent customer of the book store.

              When Nord first saw Kate, his heart palpitated. Her long black hair and deep, dark scanning eyes returned his glances. There was something different about him, she told him later. Sensing he was not a born American; like herself, there was natural affinity. Nord’s chiseled features, with the strong square jaw and raised cheekbones held her attention. And his blue eyes, intense and searching, was an added plus for her. His curly black hair also caught her attention. She had the body of youth, fine features and, in spite of some reserve, had a friendly, outgoing personality he couldn’t resist. Every time he came into the store, he bought more books than he had intended; especially when she was attending one of the cash register, which he always chose to check out.

              At the Albuquerque Journal Nord was assigned the role of writing general interest articles of local events. Throughout his adult years he had smoked over two packs a day, even though Katie had strongly advised him to quit knowing how dangerous it could be. No one in her family ever smoked. The aunt who had brought him to American had died some years later, and he’d lost track of Lavinia. From his earlier years, Nord was of an independent bent and was a man who tried to think for himself. He loved books and read extensively and widely.


From his Strata-lounger, where he tried to relax when not in bed, he called out to Katie, who was in the well appointed kitchen of the family home located on North Fourth Street, “What’s for dinner? Since his diagnosis some eight months earlier, he preferred hot soups to heavy meals, which he found hard to digest. Previously to his illness, he had been a meat and potatoes man and enjoyed his steaks medium rare. Now, all that had changed. He was losing his appetite, along with the fat he’d accumulated over the years. Every time he showered and gazed into the mirror he could see his ribs, which made him shudder. He was literally wasting away.

“I’m fixing corn soup for you with toasted slices of garlic French bread; just be patient.” The conversations between them had dwindled to the sharing of a few sparse comments, having nothing of an intimate nature to relate. Nord had retired at age sixty-five and his daily routine was to sleep late, drink hot creamed coffee, his drug of choice, throughout the day after eating half a grapefruit, and one of Katie’s muffins for breakfast; usually in silence. Then, he read the paper and snoozed when not reliving his memories until lunch was ready. The only thing that interfered with this routine was his daily bouts of coughing. He could dirty up to a dozen handkerchiefs a day.

His doctor told him his cancer had intruded into his airways, and finally he underwent a pleurodesis procedure, which helped relieve the coughing. Fortunately, he had good medical insurance in his retirement. He remained in his blue and white striped pajamas all day and night, and rarely ventured outside. In spite of their occasional spats, Katie took good care of him. His doctor had given him some five to six months of life for his incurable cancer, and that was some eight months ago. He was doing everything he knew to fight his illness. He tried to keep his fear of death to himself, feeling it was a private thing and not to be discussed with his devoted wife, which would only result in disrupting her composure. Besides, he found that long silences were a part of growing old. In old age, he lived more in his mind than in his belly. The long standing burr between them was his not following her advice and ignoring her oft-repeated suggestions regarding his health and his diet. Her insistence he eat more vegetables and fruits didn’t square with his choice of a diet. This subject was a major theme in their arguments, but as his illness progressed, he succumbed to her wishes.

As far as he could see his pending death had little obvious impact on Katie, who shielded her emotions regarding his pending death. Perhaps, he thought, it was her stoic nature which she had adopted from her family, whose philosophy was to adapt and adjust and accept whatever came their way. When her father died from a construction job accident, she showed scant emotions. It was only when her mother died shortly after the death of her father, apparently from a broken heart, that she displayed some signs of grief. Her parents were both over sixty. He finally concluded she would probably be glad to see him go; he was progressively becoming more and more of a burden to her. And, he doubted it would have much effect on his children, who had been separated from them too long to have any major impact.

              After what seemed like an hour to him, Kate called for him to come to table. Her routine while he ate was to linger at the stove or at the sink and to eat after he’d finished, so as not to embarrass him; he could be sloppy. They now slept in separate beds. After the kids had departed the home, she had moved into her daughter’s room. When Nord had been diagnosed, Katie quit her job to stay home to care for him. He had always assumed it was because of her upbringing. She was old-fashioned and duty bound. To be loyal and to fulfill the responsibilities she had assumed came first with her. A modern woman, he thought, would probably have placed him in hospice care, and rationalized any feelings of guilt. Sometimes, when he was feeling compassionate, he was glad she would soon be relieved of caring for him. In his silent way, he loved her deeply in spite of her negative words. For months, they had eased into living in their own thoughts. His long silences kept her silent as well. The main concern Nord had, besides his death, was leaving Katie with enough income from his Social Security, his retirement and the savings he had accumulated over the years from work and the pension given him at the Journal, to tide her over now that she had quit her job. He knew she had her own accumulated Social Security and would be eligible for some of his too. The family home had been paid for many years ago and he had the pink slips on the two late model cars, a Volvo and a Corolla, one of which she could sell. The pink slips were with his important papers on his desk. Hopefully, she would be well set and freed from any financial worries when he passed out of her life.

              For a period of some years, he had sat at that mahogany desk and wrote short stories; a fair number of which had been printed in national magazines. His sense of modesty kept him from bragging to others that he was a pretty fair writer and journalist. One of his articles had won the Pulitzer Prize. The story was an expose of slave labor and human trafficking right here in Albuquerque. The owners of a group of western states’ Chinese restaurants had either abducted or used the scam of having young Chinese girls pay to come to the United States, with promises of a better life and the prospect of marrying some handsome well-to-do gentleman. They were then subjected to years of servitude to work off the $20,000 dollars or so before being released. The owners used threats against relatives back in China they tried to escape. Years later, a local short story writer had written a fiction piece of the events. It was published in a well-known journal and had the title: A Chinese Girl Named May. Nord had been promoted several times over those long years at the Journal, and had ended his career as City Editor. His various articles regarding local events had been published without question, and were not only acceptable but had at times thrilled his bosses.


As the days and nights evaporated, he steadily declined. The time came when his loss of muscular control made his hands shake so bad he had trouble feeding himself. Katie bought him weighted utensils, like Parkinson’s use, and on bad days, he used them with both hands. He began to drink his liquids with a straw, and his meals now consisted mostly of a variety of soups Katie spent many hours preparing to enhance their taste. Corn, vegetables without meat, potato, French onion, and creamed celery were his favorites. He had weeks before given up smoking and to reduce his intake of coffee, which was for him, a major sacrifice.

The passage of a few weeks brought Nord to his bed; too weak now to limp around the house. He suffered constant pain and was prescribed morphine in limited amounts; 15 to 30 mg orally, every four to six hours, or as needed, which relieved most of the acute pain. Katie administered his meds according to the prescribed schedule. He had reached a point where he hardly ate or drank anything. He was wasting away and at times he imagined he could smell himself decomposing. Most of his time now was spent in thoughts of the past; a sort of summing up of his life. Early in his career, he’d read extensively in a variety of subjects. The Greek Classics were one of his favorites. He’d read Virgil’s, The Aeneid; Homer’s, The Iliad and the Odyssey, and studied the Classic Mythologies as well as read those classic stories with lasting value. He’d also delved into a study of the famous named Philosophers, like Hippocrates, Aristotle, Plato’s, Socrates, Plutarch, Descartes, Leibnitz, Lock, Spencer, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Sartre, Spinoza, and Bertrand Russell, who had been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1950, and the Old and New Testament. After all that reading he decided that philosophers had failed to fulfill their goals of discovering Life and Truth. His personal library contained many of those books considered the most influential ever written.

              The ticking of the side table clock had ceased to be his guide. Instead, the moving shadows in the room told him the time. Beams of sunlight, or rain on the window panes told him the day’s weather. And, he had discovered something about time he wanted to tell the scientists. He would nod off for what he thought was a few minutes only to discover when he awoke hours had passed. And, he’d read somewhere that dreamers could experience years of time and events only to awaken and discover they’d slept only a few minutes. He concluded that time, a serious subject with modern scientists, was an illusion of our senses, and limited to the waking consciousness; it didn’t exist in dream consciousness.

At one point, he considered he, like Faust, had sold his soul to the materialistic world for knowledge. Yet he, like Faust, agreed that knowledge is useless unless it reveals the meaning of life. He came to the realization he’d neglected his spiritual side, being like most others, too busy making a living and supporting a household to delve deeply into the great spiritual writings with which he’d either heard about or read small excerpts of; like Confucius, the I Ching, the Upanishads, Gurdjieff, Dhammapada and Buddhism, the Zend Avesta, Rig Veda, the Kabbalah, Lao Tze, the Bhagavad Gita, the Sutras of Patanjali, and other readings in Hermetic and Gnostic philosophy. He had made a point of studying the big names in psychology in order to better understand the human condition. William James, Sigmund Freud, Carl Yung, Abe Maslow, Carl Rogers, Karen Horney, Alfred Adler, Erich Fromm, Erik Erikson and Fritz Perls among others. As far as B.F. Skinner was concerned, depicting humans as robots, they could burn his books. But, in the end, he realized that with the possible exceptions of Maslow and Jung, all of these psychologists were more physiologists; more concerned with the materialistic personality than the human psychic in Man. Psychic meant soul, and modern science was still debating the existence of such a thing.

              As the days passed, he grew more and more weary and restless. One late afternoon, when he had to urinate, instead of struggling to get up, Katie held a plastic gallon milk bottle to his penis; this became a daily thing until she bought him, at his insistence, a wheeled potty chair which was kept beside his bed. With his loss of weight, she could easily stabilize him to use it. He hated to subject her to his toilet. It was bad enough she had to periodically cut his fingernails and toenails. Fortunately, they no long grew very fast. She used an electric razor for his face and occasionally clipped his hair, which her mother had done for her father most of their marriage.

              He had read that Hemingway, when in the bush, sponge bathed with rubbing alcohol, so he encouraged Katie to do the same for him. By scooting him up to the head of the bed, she could wash his hair with a wash rag and then rinse it out. She had already cut his hair to butch length.

His last days were filled with regret and frustration. He suffered not only the continual pain of his cancer, although modified by the morphine, but with an indisputable conclusion his life has been lived in vain; that overall it had been a useless life; a life wasted on nouns and verbs, things and actions of a finite and ephemeral nature; on worldly phenomena and the concepts of modern science. Instead, he should have been focusing on the eternal, everlasting concepts of brotherly love for all humanity, on right human relationships, and compassion for all living forms. Education should focus on developing the soul within each child, and preparing each student to become a “citizen of the world.” The soul was the consciousness of the Christ. He recalled J. Krishnamurti’s, advocacy of educating each child to think things through, and to view life with an unconditioned mind. A remark by Proust came to mind: “To bring some light to those who live in darkness.”

True, one valued thing was that he had and did love Katherine, but rued being unable to genuinely show her his affection, buried deep within his heart. That was due to his being orphaned at a young age and his deeply veined general distrust of people and the world growing up in an occupied country, which led him to share only superficially with others. What he had observed throughout his life was how all things come and go; civilizations, earthly creatures, the seasons, changes in technology and the forever shifting ideals of humanity. What are the truth of humanity and the purpose of our existence? Did anyone really know? Had he followed a spiritual life from the very beginning, could he now die peacefully knowing there was a worthwhile afterlife and that his worldly life had been lived with a genuine spiritual purpose? His conclusion: the only life worth living was a life dedicated to selflessly serving others with no regard for the self, and not lived selfishly for oneself and one’s family. Mother Theresa had perhaps the secret to it all. She fully realized this materialistic world is one of endless pain and suffering, sorrow and misery, and death and dying. If we really knew the Truth of Life, would we still fear death? What was he facing? How desperately he wanted a rightful answer to that question.


That cold December day a week before Christmas, he awoke knowing definitely it would be his last. He’d refused Katie’s offer to bring in a priest to administer the last rites. In his younger years he’d been a Catholic, as was Katie, but after being married for so long he had influenced her to forego regular church attendance. She went alone to church now only on special occasions, like Easter and Christmas. In truth, he doubted she still believed in a personified god, which he had renounced years ago. A literal interpretation of the Bible, and the church’s authoritarian attitude, had turned him sour against all western religions. He believed in his heart that any truths in the Bible had to be understood as analogy, allegory and symbolism.

                            When he opened his eyes, Katie was on the edge of the bed near his side; ready with the morphine pill and water with a straw. “I won’t be needing that,” and hugged her and kissed her cheeks and tried to smile into her still beautiful face. “Don’t grieve for me, honey. And, if it be your wish, find another husband.” He was breathing laboriously now, with periodic gasps for air. “You’re beautiful, and young, to attract many admirers. Don’t be alone unnecessarily . . . maybe go back to work.” He hesitated to take a breath. “Have a good life, Katie. Forgive me for all the wrongs I committed against you. I do love you, with all my heart.” Again, he sighed and gasped for breath. “I am so very grateful, for your loving care . . . during these trying times.” He fought back a tear; gasped. “I really don’t want to die . . . but it’s a good way to escape all this misery;” a shallow breath. “It’s the way of life for us humans. My only regret, I’ll really miss you . . . love of my life.” He coughed. “Be happy, Katie, live the fullest while you can.” He squeezed her hands softly, having no more strength. “I hate leaving you . . . Christmas coming. Tell the kids I love em” long pause, “and try to read . . . some spiritual literature.” And, with a final sigh, he passed into the afterlife; whatever that might be.

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