How will I handle my death when the time comes? This is a question that occasionally slips into the dark recesses of my mind and makes me even more nutty than usual. It’s not that I have a feeling of impending doom, far from it. But, when you’ve been given an expiration date that’s almost certainly going to be sooner than later, things like that tend to bug you from time to time.
I have been present at the death of several people and each has had their own unique “style” in death. My father, for example, thought he could not go, that he was needed by the family and he fought with all that was in him up until the very end. He had been in the hospital for several days and had had several MI’s, each more devastating than the previous, and he was lingering in misery. For the most part, he was outwardly unaware of the world around him or the condition he was in, he was semi comatose most of the time. However, occasionally he would open his eyes and have the strangest look in them. A look that said it’s time to go but I can’t leave you all. And so it was after a particularly nasty heart attack following which he sat bolt upright (something he hadn’t been able to do in years), reached his hands and arms toward the heavens, and had the most peaceful look on his face. Then he slipped back into his darkness. He had seen his death and seemed to welcome it in the moment but then fought it off. It was heartbreaking. I stayed extremely close to him following this and the next time he opened his eyes he looked directly into mine. Suddenly I felt an overwhelming urge to give him permission to pass into his eternity. So, I did. I told him it was okay if he was tired and needed to take a rest, that we would take care of Mom and we would be alright. We would miss him terribly but realized he would be so much better off. He said not a word, he was incapable at that point, but a look of calm and inner peace filled his eyes in that moment. And within minutes he had passed peacefully into his long sleep. This situation has haunted me since. On one hand, I feel a deep sense of remorse that I told him to go when he wanted, that we would miss him but always love him. I did not want to let him go but knew it was time. On the other, I feel a deep relief. A relief that he is no longer hurting, no longer confused...simply that he is no longer suffering. A relief that I believe my giving him permission to pass in some way eased the transition for him. It is a decision I know in my heart was the correct one but with which I struggle to this very day.
My mother’s passing was much different. She knew she was close to death and she was scared. It wasn’t a fear of where she was going, she had long ago set things straight, but more of a sense of loss I think. She dreaded leaving us, her family had been her life and she dreaded the thought. In the end though, she seemed content as she slipped into unconsciousness and lingered in that state for a little over a day. I sat with her, held her hand, told her we loved her and would miss her. There was no outward sign she heard anything I said but I could feel the tensions ease in her body as I spoke to her. She eventually passed peacefully in the middle of the night, only my younger son and I were with her. She took one last long breath, let it out quietly and gently, and was gone.
My brother’s death was altogether different from either my father or mother. He had been “terminal” since before he was a teen. As the doctors told my parents his life expectancy was somewhere in his mid 20’s, he felt he had a bonus 50 years or so on this earth and was thankful. And he was at peace with his impending demise but dreaded being confined to a hospital, hooked to who knows how many machines and for how long during his final hurrah. He did not want to die on a ventilator, something which almost seemed a certainty. Thankfully this did not come to pass. In the end, as he was getting dressed for the day he suddenly simply fell back onto the bed and was gone. No suffering, no tubes, no ventilator...nothing. Just his own bedroom, beside his loving bride of over 40 years. I don’t think he could have imagined a better way to go.
In each of these instances I feel they had handled themselves extremely well, although quite differently. And I often wonder if I will be able to handle my impending passing with such grace and confidence. Will I peacefully pass into eternity or will I go kicking and screaming, leaving a scar on the soul of my family forever. In my current, semi-sane state I accept what is to come and do not dread it. But I do dread leaving my family and the pain it will cause them. As I slip further into the darkness of dementia, as my time draws nearer and nearer, will my calmness turn to fear and resistance. Will I make my passing much harder on my family than it has to be. Will I face my demise with grace or trepidation. These and so many more thoughts pass through my mind and give me pause. And the only way I will get any answers to these questions is in the end, when I actually go through the process. Much too late to change anything.
I’m sorry if this was a distressing post, a downer. But, when you know your life is in it’s waning moments, that you won’t be doing all the things you and your wife had always planned, that you won’t be spending your “Golden Years” in the arms of the love of your life...these things pass through your mind with much more frequency than you would like. And occasionally you must get them off your chest and allow them to see the light of day. If for no other reason than to retain what little sanity you are still blessed with.