I had never been present at death until last night. It’s not exactly unlike what I expected, but it has a certain elusive component – a characteristic that simply cannot be captured. Death has many sounds.
His individual labored breaths intermixed with the steady hum of the oxygen tank and the syncopated beats of jazz music playing softly in the background. At 5 pm there was still enough life in him for me to get a final gesture of acknowledgement. Not quite a full squeeze of my hand, but enough. There was some fight left in him to leave a lasting tactile impression. Selfishly, I’m glad he knew I was there.
My mother held his hand and I rubbed his shoulder, bony from weeks of refusing food. At 5’11, he weighed less than I did. I joked with him that I’d kill to be at his weight, but he just looked past me blankly, not seeing, not comprehending. It was my first joke that failed to elicit even the slightest smirk from his lips.
The room smelled less medicinal than I would have imagined. I detected the same hints of laundry detergent and burnt carpet as always.
By the time I left, his skin was cool to the touch. The color had vanished from his face but he remained beautiful, taut – statuesque, really. In my grief, I asked myself, what are we if not impermanently stored carbon energy?
I’d say his last 86 seconds were a worthy reflection of his 86 years – courageous, sweet, surrounded by love.
He did not complain, did not cry out, did not even whimper. He breathed until he decided not to. Then he stopped.