My dad died on Monday. I watched him take his last breath. I felt his body as it got cold. But those were the endings of the 53 hour journey he took and allowed me and my family to be a part of.
We were instructed to see death as a journey similar to the process of labor and delivery when a baby is born. As with labor, no one knows when it will begin exactly. For my dad, it started in the middle of the night with pain all over his body. From the moment my sister gave him his first dose of morphine we knew he had begun the labor of dying. For the next 53 hours straight we took turns singing hymns, reading scriptures, holding his hand, giving him back rubs and head massages, shifting him from lying down to sitting, holding his head up when he could not, anything that might bring him comfort.
When he became completely unresponsive we continued to talk to him and let him know what we were doing, that we were there, apologizing if anything we did might seem uncomfortable to him. Putting the syringe of morphine between his cheek and gums, I said I was sorry if I didn’t do it as well as my sister…I couldn’t tell if I was pressing too hard on his gums. I held my hand to the opposite corner of his mouth to make sure none of the precious pain reliever was dribbling out; my hand was dry…success!
My daughter and I had the 10pm-12am watch, a little less than 8 hours before he died. We whispered so my mom, who barely left my dad’s side during his dying journey, could get some sleep. I played sudoku on my phone. We would glance at his chest periodically to see if his quiet breathing, nearly impossible to hear over the loud snores of the dog, had changed…it hadn’t.
When I was alerted a few hours later to the arrival of ‘the death rattle’ I slipped onto my parents’ bed, which had been pushed up against the hospital bed so my mom could snuggle with my dad. She held him close, aware his journey was almost over. The death rattle arrives 1-5 hours before the final breath. I decided to go back to bed knowing those on watch would wake me if anything changed. I slept a few more hours then came up to check on my dad…he was still breathing. I couldn’t believe his body was still going!
Within an hour or so, his breathing began to slow, with long delays between breaths. We knew he was close and surrounded both him and my mother with our love and gentle touch. And then he stopped…no more breathing, no more life. Relief. Relief that his labor had ended and he was free of the body that carried him so beautifully and humbly through his 90 years on this earth. We were silent, just soaking it all in.
Slowly, one by one we started talking about him, remembering, laughing, crying. We lingered with him for a long while. We took turns washing his body using a cloth dipped in water infused with frankincense and myrrh. I gently held his stiffening leg in my hand as I washed his foot. I felt such a deep connection with him in that moment, a sense of gratitude for allowing me to be a part of his journey all the way to the end. Tears fell, sobs slipped past my vocal chords and I kissed his cool cheek. I walked away thankful for the beauty I witnessed in my daddy’s ending.