Snapshots: Death

I'm finally starting to feel ready to write about Wes.  I'm calling these posts snapshots, because I will probably be recording memories of our last days, months, moments together...and I will write them as they come to me to write about them, and not in the chonological order which they occured. 

Wes died on Monday night, October 9th, but it was rather close to midnight.  The exact time he stopped breathing was 11:17 pm.  But his death certificate and tombstone say October 10th because it was after midnight when the Hospice nurse arrived and certified his death.  That's kind of weird. 

As soon as I found out he had terminal brain cancer (the day before Thanksgiving of 2013) I got online and researched what the end was going to be like.  And I have to say:  Wes' death was textbook Glioblastoma brain cancer. 

The night he'd died, he'd been in and out of a coma sleep for almost a week.  His last food was on Tuesday morning.  He ate about nine small bites of spoonfed oatmeal and then he was done.  He refused all offers after that.  And that is the day he started sleeping all the time.  And his sleep was not normal sleep...when he was alseep, he was in a coma...sleeping through bed baths, diaper changes, everything.  But he would wake up about once a day and whisper a few simple words.  I would always offer him water and he alway refused.  Sometimes he would let me wet his mouth with a sponge.  His body was sweating a whole lot and even though he wasn't eating or drinking anything, he was to put this delicately...needing to be changed regularly.  And as his system emptied out, it was like a great reversal:  infancy had returned in nearly every way.  He could not move, he was utterly dependant for all his needs. 

And on Sunday, after sleeping nearly all the time since Tuesday morning, he woke up.  This was his rally day.  In early afternoon, Father Justin and Deacon Simeon came over and offered Holy Communion and prayers of absolution.  That was his very last food...our last meal together, I guess. (I'd not thought of it that way before).  On Sunday afternoon, he asked for the kids.  A friend went down to Berea and fetched them and brought them home.  He was awake and waiting for them.  We all gathered around and hugs were given.  Love was shared.  His last words were to me:  "I Love..."And then he fell asleep for the last time. 

He didn't wake up at all on Monday.  We were all sort of hanging around and waiting for something to happen....was he going to die?  Was he going to wake up one more time?  We all knew he was dying.  His hands and feet, lower legs and lower arms were icy icy cold.   He was breathing heavy and fast, like he was running a hundred yard dash. Every cell in his body was dumping fluid and he was geasy oily sweaty gross and he smelled like cheese. I had to go wash my hands after every time I touched him.   The hospice nurse came and said that morphine would help ease his breathing, so I agreed to a dose even though he wasn't in any pain as far as we could tell.  Wes slept. 

In the Evening, the kids and I decided that they should go back to school.  The hopsice nurse had also told me I was hovering too much and that sometimes introverts needed to be alone when they die and I should leave him alone for a bit.  That was really really hard to do, but I followed her advice and took the kids back to Berea myself on Monday evening.  There and back again as fast as I could in a swift two hours...I got home at 9:35 pm.  Wes was still breathing. 

Bethany was upstairs in her room, presumably sleeping and so we were alone.  I settled in next to him with my computer and listened to him breathing.  I did so much of that during those last weeks:  In and out in and out...the last bit of life...every breath a gift still.  He breathed, I waited and kept vigil beside him.  I knew. 

It was 11 pm and there was a downshift in his breathing sounds...a change, like a car engine shifting from third gear into second and then first gear.  I got out the Book of Needs that Fr. J had loaned me.  In it are prayers to be prayed when an Orthodox personn is dying.  How often does one actually get to have such a death to make that possible?  Wes had such a death. 

So I prayed them slow, and I won't lie and say the timing was perfect.  There were three longer prayers at the end, I just kept praying those...I might have been on the second or third time through those last three prayers when his breathing it wasn't long at all.  I was sitting on his bed, had the book in one hand but had my arm around him, too. 

Death is an ugly thing.  It was a little bit horrible because his eyes opened dead and he wasn't looking at me at all.  His eyes were utterly blank.  And then he stopped breathing and was gone.  It didn't even occur to me to close his eyes.  I left them open and called my friend.  Then I called my priest and he came over and had his censor and prayers that were appropriate, along with "memory eternal".  He's the one who told me to close his eyes.  Good idea.  Then I called the Hospice nurse and after she certified his death she called the funeral home. 

Two men and a gurney showed up.  It might have been 2 am or later by was middle of the night time and physically to my exhausted body it felt like Pascha beause of the time of night, the prayers, incense, hubub...and the fact that all of this was happening while the rest of the world was fast asleep and knew nothing of the happenings that night.   It's amazing how fast he got cold and stiff. 

And so that was the night Wes died. 


Judith said…
Touching. This brings back memories of being with Mom and Dad when they died. Beautiful yet sad but all with the awareness of Christ being in our midst. Thank you for sharing.
MamaBirdEmma said…
May his memory be eternal!
elizabeth said…
So deep. I have a friend who is an EMT and she speaks of the sacredness of being there then. What a deep mystery. How terribly hard. Yet we have hope; in the guttedness of grief.... We still pray for you all and Wes too, of course...
L. said…
Réquiem ætérnam dona eis, Dómine, et lux perpétua lúceat eis.
Requiéscant in pace. Amen.
Thomas Minton said…
Memory eternal! Vivid and lasting memory.
Unknown said…
When my mom died, she was paralyzed, she had been brought home for 3 weeks. She wasn't expected to die, actually. I was upstairs in my room getting ready for work. I had taken the unusual step of not wishing her a good morning that day because I just wanted her to sleep - it was her only respite from the waking nightmare of paralysis. So I was upstairs getting dressed and listening to Ancient Faith Radio - the daily readings were playing. The suddenly, a monsoon level rain came down. A monsoon in our native country is not like a heavy American rain - it's like it's raining cats and dogs, then it gets even harder - and then harder - and then harder than you would think possible. I've only heard it when we were visiting my mom's home abroad, her one and only true happy place to be. So as I dressed I thought, "Wow! It's like the monsoon, that's so weird!" And I had suddenly this very happy, poignant memory of childhood summers spent at my grandmother's house, before life got so complicated and my mom was healthy and happy. Then suddenly this wave of what I can only describe as *triumph* moved through me. It didn't come from within me. It thought it was odd, but it was too beautiful to dwell on as too odd, and I was in a hurry, so I got dressed in left (the same way I was in a hurry to leave for work the morning she had her stroke). It was just an hour into work that my brother called to tell my mother had passed that morning, but somehow we had all missed it though we were all in the house at the time. I truly believe that those "monsoon" rains, the memory, and especially that sense of triumph that passed through me all had to do with her peaceful passing away from suffering into sleep in our Lord. There were a few more strange occurrences that happened over the next few days, but I just felt moved to share this. At my grandmother's house, the whole village gathered to mourn her and comfort her siblings and mother. She was known as the "laughing" sister, because whenever she visited all her sisters would come home and they'd be talking and laughing so much you could hear it outside of the house. My uncle said that they could feel her presence there with them.