I am home but a few minutes when the call comes. In the half~hour since I left, Dad’s oxygen has dropped to 47% and he has begun Cheyne~Stokes breathing, a sign that death is near.
I hurry back into a car which, after many months, drives itself to the nursing home while I call my siblings. When I arrive Dad’s heart is bounding and irregular. Though still receiving supplemental oxygen, his saturation is now 23%, telling us the machine is doing the breathing, not Dad.
We gather 'round him, although two siblings who needed to return to their own lives amid this 12~day vigil are present by speaker phone. Hospice explains the oxygen can be turned off when we’re ready, and that we can expect three or four breaths before Dad slips away.
After a few moments, we give the word. The machine is turned off. And Dad breathes on his own for 20 more minutes. These breaths are not frantic or gasping, but automatic, shallow, moving only his shoulders. Such breathing does not oxygenate blood, with Dad’s saturation levels measuring first 3%, then 0%. And still he breathes.
Until he doesn’t. No movement. No sound. No heart beat.
If you had asked me to imagine my reactions at this moment, I would have predicted tears and a confused mix of emotions. What I feel instead is a wild, soaring joy. My father is released from an ailing body, from a life that had become increasingly difficult. I am happy for him, but this elation seems more than that. In the last several days, whenever I remembered to tune in and open up, I felt something in the room. An energetic presence. A quickening. A lightness. An effervescence.
Many believe that the veil between the worlds thins or parts at the time of death. This would explain the great inrush of energy I feel now and throughout the next few hours. It buoys me as I join two hospice aides in shaving Dad's two weeks of whiskers, in bathing and lotioning his body. It holds me as I lay beside that cooling body, whispering goodbyes, thank yous, support for and excitement about his continued journey. I feel it still when I return to his room after the funeral home carries his body away, as I sob my goodbyes at last, window open to the cold night air.
This energy is so expansive, so good, so pure, that I have no doubt that Dad is enveloped by it. In fact, when I think to use the phrase “at peace” to describe him, it feels wrong. Dad feels “in joy” to me, at the time of his passing and in these hours since.
And then something begins to shift, so gradually that I don’t recognize it at first. About six hours after Dad’s heart beat its last, the curtain is drawn once again. He is gone.
* * * * * * * *
Two weeks have now passed since Dad left us, days full of the emptiness of him. Grief rises and falls. Love remains. And gratitude.
Thank you, Dad, for your time among us. Thank you for sharing your passing, as I now share it with others. I love you. Blessed be and farewell.