|Final Picture May 5, 2016|
“Wayne, come over and see what I am seeing,” said Gillian, the hospice nurse.
Things were stable for the moment, so I had the opportunity to cook Debbie and I a steak, sauté some potatoes and onions, and wilt some spinach. I had just put the dishes in the sink. We knew that it would be a long night and had thought…no, we had hoped that my aunt, Temie, would make it through another night.
I walked over and noticed the change, or in the terms the nurses used, a transition in the way Temie was breathing. Previously, each breathe was reflected in the gentle rise and fall of her chest. Now, it appeared as if each breath emanated from her throat. “I got the dishes,” said Debbie on her way from the living room, starting to head down the hall to the kitchen. “Let it go, it can wait. It is time.” I respond. To which the nurse responded, “Yes.”
Debbie sat on one side of the bed holding Temie’s left hand, while I was mirroring her position holding her right hand. It was strange to see someone, who only a few weeks earlier was filled with boundless energy and always in motion, to be lying still on her back. As the moment drew closer, I said to Temie that I believe that her sister, my mother, will be waiting to greet her, along with those that have gone before. Debbie and I said our goodbyes and, after a few seconds, as Temie drew her last breath, told her we loved her. “Rest in peace, until we meet again,” were the final words I said as the tears ran down my face. I heard a sniffle as the nurse turned away mentioning something about paperwork. Afterwards, Debbie confirmed that she heard the sniffle too.
This was the fifth time I have been in this position. I have heard, “It must be tough on you,” “Isn’t it creepy,” etc. It was neither of those. When you love someone or are very close, being there for them at those final moments is precious and kind of beautiful. When my grandmother died, my mom told us she was alone and that she always felt bad and asked that someone always stay with her when she knew she was dying. I was there when the moment came. No one should be alone when the moment arrives. The hospice nurses told us, that unfortunately, that happens more than we would think.
And, as for hospice? Temie made the right decision. The group of nurses that we saw over the last few weeks showed a high level of compassion (i.e., the nurse sniffling), care, consideration and comfort (to us). They are the unsung heroes that dedicate their life to providing an atmosphere of comfort and dignity during those final days. They watch and monitor the situation around the clock and have the knowledge and experience to know the various signs and phases we go through as we near the end of our lives.
I am sad my aunt is gone, but happy for the life she led. She was a liberated woman before it became fashionable. She lived life on her terms. For a small, petite woman, she lived life large, calling the shots all the way to her final decisions on how to end life. In the end, there was no pain and she went peacefully. While Temie is no longer physically with us, she will live with us in our hearts and minds. As Tasha Yar said in one of Temie’s favorite TV shows, Star Trek the Next Generation, "Death is that state where one lives only in the memory of others, which is why it is not an end. No goodbyes--just good memories."