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Watcher for the Dying

February 10, 2017

“I will stay with you until the end,” my mom told my cousin,
who was bursting at the seams
with her soon-to-be baby boy.
My cousin was meditative, calm, but anxious.
While she breathed deeply,
my mom stood by her side
and coaxed that baby out.

“I’ll be there with you until the last moment,” she told her best friend Sherry,

whose body was failing. “I will never leave you.”

Sherry smiled, her beautiful blood-drained face

a picture of relief.
And so my mom sat at her bedside.
She laughed.
She adjusted Sherry’s bed
so she wouldn’t snore.
She entertained family and guests
who were without the skills of facing
the final stages of the life of a loved one.

Skills that most of us lack.

When my grandfather was dying, I crafted my final message to him.
That I loved him, that he had shaped me,
that I would read the many-paged book he had sent me.
But the dying was not over for him after my finely crafted final words.
Because at that point, he was merely preparing for death.

He still had to die.

He had to lie in his bed, praying, and scared.
I’ll admit, that I did not want to see my grandpa scared.

Sherry’s dying continued long after
she had said her final goodbyes.
My mother sat at her bedside
and listened to her moan,
though she had been non-responsive for hours.
Her moans were uttered with the timber of her own voice.

Again, not in my wheelhouse.

My mom demanded more morphine from the night nurses.

She held up her phone to the moaning

so her expert friends could listen and opine.
She turned on the Mama Mia soundtrack, Sherry’s favorite CD.
I think Sherry may have died to this music.

My mom is a watcher for the dying.

Two weeks later, like clockwork,
our beloved family friend also found himself
on his death bed.
And again, without a moment to unpack her previous hospital overnight bag,
she was by his bedside,
laughing with him,
wrangling the nurses for him,
watching him die.

He was a lucky man. He had a death doula.

My mom sobs in spurts—in the car on her way to the next death bed.

By the time she arrives, her eyes are clear.
Not everyone can be a watcher for the dying.

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2 Comments
  1. Jane Tallant permalink

    Grampa wasn’t afraid to die, sweet one. He taught us about facing death with faith, courage, and even humor. It was a job well done.

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