Death: The Final Frontier

Its a hell of a thing, watching a person die.

I’ve been a witness to death three times.

Once, when I was a young clerk, I saw a man die in the parking lot of a store. An apparent heart attack. His name was Frank. I knew nothing about him, but, when I went back inside, I said a prayer for him, and wondered who he left behind, if anybody. What type of man he was, all the things he’s seen or done in his life. After a while, I just stopped thinking about it. That was my first “experience”.

The second came when my Father-in-Law, Umberto, passed away. My wife and I were just dating then. She got a call at work from her sister. The same type of call that many of us have gotten: “You better get up here, things are taking a turn for the worse”. So I met my wife at work, and drove up to see my future Father-in-Law. He was in a room, hooked up to an oxygen machine, a blanket over his legs, in a wheel chair. His breathing was labored. The weirdest breaths I’ve ever heard. His whole family, save for his son, was there. Somehow, everyone left the room except for my wife and me. As my wife held him in her arms, his breathing became more infrequent. I remember actually counting how long it took for each breath to come. Last I counted was eight seconds. As my wife stroked his hair, and said “Its OK Dad, go ahead”, he lurched forward, opened his eyes as wide as possible, looked straight at my wife, and took a heaving last breath. And that was it.

As everyone filed into the room, I left to walk around the house. Looking around at everything this man had amassed over his life, looking at all the pictures hanging on the wall, the baseball memorabilia collections he loved so much, his bar, which he built himself, his favorite chair. I just found myself walking around, bawling my eyes out over a man that I new too little, and cared for too much.

Almost after he was taken out of the house, you could see factions taking place. My wife’s blood family on one side, his second wife’s family in the other. Things got relatively nasty divvying up his estate, but he was a shrewd old man. Left certain things unknown to certain people, and known only to a few others.

He was a good man.

The third came just this past May when my Mother-in-Law died. (I’ve written a lengthy memorial here, so I won’t get into to much detail) We found out she had I guess what you’d call level 4 lung cancer, and within two weeks of finding this out, she died. Things were OK up until about the last week. She was terribly afraid to lay down, much less go to sleep, I’m assuming due to the fear of never waking again. She didn’t want the hospice packs, as I know she viewed them as “Death packs”. For the whole week, I’d say she slept a total of 6 hours. She was on an oxygen machine. I hate the sound of those. There’s a refrigeration system at work that sounds exactly like one, and whenever I hear it, I just want to bash it to pieces.

It got pretty bad towards the last two days. She would not sit still, she would try to rip her clothes off, and towards the very end, she would scream out names of family members that were dead. All very eerie. Expected, but, so sad to see such a vibrant soul deteriorate to someone unrecognizable.

After a few days, I told my wife to just give her the hospice medicine. Morphine for the pain we knew she was in, and Ativan for the anxiety we knew she had. After a while, none of it works, and the will to die became too overwhelming for her.

At 5:00am, on a beautiful May spring morning, after about 45 minutes of sleep, I walked into Barbara’s room and knew she had gone. For some odd reason, I have a stethoscope, so I tried that. Heard nothing but what seemed to be my own racing heart. So I morbidly got a small mirror and placed it under her nose, which revealed no breath.

I went to tell my wife, who came in, sat by her mother of 46 years, and we both broke down into sobbing tears. I went outside, prayed, and cried. The usual phone calls were placed to family members.
I went back in before hospice arrived, said a prayer, kissed her forehead, and murmured “in pace requiescat”.

She was a good woman.

Death sucks, but it’s part of life.

I’ve been around so much of it, directly and indirectly, that I’d think I would be desensitized by it now.

But the older I get, and the closer I am to the ones that pass, it just gets harder and harder.

Death really does suck.

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