Guilt and remorse disturb even the peace of death. In life these twin impish spirits linger, welcomed either by the chimera of time, assured that on some soon occasion pardon will be offered, or by a foolish personal pride asserting the absence of any wrongdoing. Like some dormant disease these two nestle into the soul and secretly await the last word. Today they speak. We witness their full power as they effortlessly transform old Prince Bolkonsky from a stern, unforgiving, temperamental Coriolanus into a pitiful, begging, howling Lear.
Throughout the novel the old Prince has treated his daughter with disdain and unwarranted insult. Whether it be making her feel stupid over geometry lessons or embarrassed before her suitors, his behavior leaves poor Marya more often in tears than blithesome anticipation of their next meeting. His treatment of her is so bad, in fact, that as he lays dying the thought can’t help but manifest in Marya’s brain that her life will be much better without him in it. She makes plans for a life of happiness without him. Her conscience gets the better of her though and, despite a lifetime of suffering at his expense, she repents of these thoughts and comforts him in his dying moments.
His dying moments, it turns out, are focused upon her. His mind writhes in regret as he thinks back upon how he has treated her. He struggles against approaching death, summoning from his failing body and faltering mind the power to beg forgiveness. And, recognizing his errors and his daughter’s ever-forgiving and Christian love for him, he offers his thanks to her.
We all desire a peaceful and easy death. How often do we prepare for one though? Do we spend our short time here, like the old Prince Bolkonsky, sowing seeds that yield a harvest of mania and frenzy as death approaches? Or do we cultivate a lovely flower garden for those we leave behind to enjoy? Do we even know how to do that?
Consider yourself to be dead, and to have completed your life up to the present time; and live, according to nature, the remainder that is allowed to you.
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations