Her breathing has become even more labored. More difficult. She is working hard. So hard. Each breath requires a major effort. And though she is still lucid and able to say what she wants and does not want, I just know it is coming. Soon. Too soon.
The hospice nurse was here visiting this morning. She said her lungs actually sounded pretty good but her pulse was high. Her heart is working overtime. And, it may actually be her heart that gives out before her lungs. The nurse predicts that she would pass from this life to the next by sometime Sunday—or before. Not exactly the suspicions I had hoped, or wanted, to be confirmed.
I hold her hand and keep whispering in her ear. Praying without ceasing. Quoting scripture. Singing. Whatever I can think of to help her in this end-of-life transition. But it’s hard. So hard.
As the day wears on I can barely look at her any longer. It reminds me of the amazing creature David and I watched die in Mexico. The one we fought for 30+ minutes as we reeled it in with all of our might while the sun beat down. The one we hooked through the gills even though we were striving to do a catch and release. The one that weighed 191 pounds and had bright green-blue, iridescent and luminous skin before we pulled it onto the boat. The one in whose big shiny black eye I could see my reflection as it desperately took in its open-air coffin. The one whose mouth opened and closed non stop as it frantically gulped for water and air. The one who died slowly, alarmingly, right before our eyes. I look back to Gord. Her eyes look like that marlin—glazed over—shiny and black. She is looking around the room—at what I am not sure. I put my head on the pillow beside her so I don’t have to see her face.
“It’s okay. You’re not alone. I am right here with you.” It’s become my mantra the last thirty hours. “It’s okay. You’re not alone. I’m right here with you.” I say it again even though I just said it. I don’t know what else to do. “It’s okay. You’re not alone. I’m right here.”
She looks above her bed. Is she looking at the crucifix and the rosary beads? I’m not sure. She looks to the middle of the room. Her skinny little arm lifts up and starts flapping in the air. “Heaven. Heaven,” she says pointing. “Do you see it?” she asks. “See what?” I say. “The tree. The big tree.” “I don’t see it,” I tell her. “But I bet it’s beautiful. I know they are all waiting there for you—Mom and Lu, and Angie & Jen, and Ken & Ren. I bet Pete and Marcella are there. And, Kurt & Caroline and Dorothy & Buck. They are all there. Waiting.” She sort of smiles and then drifts off to sleep.
Every hour I get up to re-dose her with Lorazapam and morphine. It seems to be helping. She said she is not in pain. Her tongue gets thick from dehydration. She’s having difficulty swallowing now. I start dipping a wash rag in water and putting it in her mouth to try and wet it. Sometimes she sucks the rag. Sometimes she tries to move away from it.
Time keeps moving forward.
Another sound. Only this time I do not remember fondly. It reminds me of those last 20 minutes my mother fought for her life. They call it the “death rattle”. I even hate the name. I call to Bob. Ask if either he or Mike would call hospice to see if there is anything else we can do.
They talk. We decide to try more drugs. Change a patch. Fill the syringe. Get another pill. The phone rings again. It’s hospice calling back. They have one more thing to add. Mike hands me the phone. I go to the kitchen where Bob is so I can talk without her hearing. Mid question Mike comes out and says, “Don’t bother. She’s gone. She’s not breathing.” “What? No!” I hang up on hospice. A sob catches in my throat. Bob hugs me.
I rush back to the bedroom and to her side. Two final exhales leave her body and then silence. She is still. Gone. No more gulping for air. No more gasping. No more struggling. Gone. I can’t believe it. It’s too soon. Mike walks over and turns off the oxygen tank. We each try to close her half-open eyes but the lids keep popping open. I try to close her mouth but her muscles are too loose.
Finally I lay back down on the bed and grab her hand. I rub it. “It’s okay. You’re not alone. I’m right here.” But in reality I am alone. She is gone. To the big tree. The one with all the people waiting for her. The big tree in heaven.