It was a very peaceful end. I was resting my hand on her chest in order to check her heartbeat and I felt the last beat of her heart. I had been sitting with her all day and in the evening, after my father had left for dinner, there seemed to be something different about her breathing. Mmyspouse went to get dad and so he was there with her when she breathed her last.
It had been winter when she went into the hospital and it was spring when she died. Leaving behind the deathbed vigil was like emerging from a very long and dim tunnel to find that ordinary life had continued in our absence. At home the grass needed to cut and yard work needed to be done. In just a week my father would face his first birthday without mom in over 60 years.
Sitting day after day and then week after week in the hospital I have learned much about the amount of sadness in the world. The morning before my mother\’s death another patient on the floor of the palliative care unit died. The man had only been in the unit for 2 days and his family was totally unready for the his death. His daughter was sitting by him, looked away and when she looked back he was dead. She broke down in hysterics. Across the hall was a man who has been on the floor for 18 months. The doctors had given him 5 months to live when he arrived. He went home for a few hours on Sunday to enjoy the Masters with his grandsons. He and his family knew that every day could be his last. Just down from his room was that of a young woman — maybe 24 or 25 — who had metatastic bone cancer. Her father told me that \”it sounds like a cliche but every day becomes a precious gift to you.\” And in yet another room a 23 year old was dying of cancer and his mother expected that he wouldn\’t last more than a few more weeks. And a few hours after the corpse of the man who died in the morning had been removed the room had a new occupant. The man, just transferred down from oncology, was constantly wracked by coughing and gasped as if always fighting for enough air just to breathe.
We walked out of the palliative care ward leaving one set of worries and fears and taking up another. Our concern was now to look after my father, a man who was both heartbroken at the passing of his wife and ready for it. He loved her and he looked after her to the end. We loved her and the greatest gift we could give to her memory was to care for and cherish the man she had loved so long and so well.