Arriving back at B’s suite the next morning was less surreal for the time being. Only a few people were present. The lighting was subdued and the ever present sports show was on TV but the volume was muted. B was resting quietly with the help of his morphine injections and his wife, my sister-in-law, was by B’s side holding his hand. Everyone spoke in muted tones and the four of us stood around the bed looking at the inert but living shell of a person that we all cared for.
This man was dear to me although we visited with each other infrequently over the last 45 years. I first met B when he was in his early thirties. We got on from the get-go and just genuinely liked each other, although he was 10 years my senior. His wife and my bride-to-be were sisters, hence that fate of our own encounters and choices for life partners brought us together as friends. As I gazed at his gaunt but familiar features, my eyes misted a bit for the first time. On the previous visit there was just too much lightheartedness in the room for my emotions to take hold. I touched his shoulder and spoke a few words, but there was still no obvious response from him.
The day progressed with little change in B’s situation. The only change was the arrival of one of his sons. We were all sitting around in the lounge area chatting except for my sister-in-law, who was sitting by B’s side when we heard “It’s okay B. It’s okay for you to go if you are ready.”, which immediately drew our attention to B’s bedside scene. He was breathing irregularly (something called Cheyne-Stokes respiration) and had a very shallow, almost non existent pulse. The emergency button was pressed and when the nurse entered the duty physician was requested. He appeared and confirmed that B was in crisis and might not survive much longer. There were no tears, only concerned attention and a desire to stand near B during this time. After about 35 minutes of this ominous “death rattle” condition, the nurses arrived to move B a bit as per usual. When they did, B opened his eyes. For some reason, I went to his side quickly, took his hand and spoke to him. Just a bit a friendly patter of the kind that usually passed between us, but this time he responded. B certainly was unable to speak although he moved his facial muscles near his lips a bit in response to my words. I continued talking with him and reminiscing about times we spent together and he spoke with his eyes, and with movements of his eye brows. It was an amazing and special moment since I was able to communicate with my old friend directly. B’s breathing became regular and after about two minutes I decided to call his son over to the bed side and stand aside so he could talk to his father. “Just keep the conversation going”, I said with some urgency.
The conversation between B and his son went on for quite some time, then each of the others in the room went over in turn and spoke (words responded to by eye flashes, facial movements and eye brow raises) with B. These were no random responses on his part, they were deliberate attempts to communicate with all of us. After about 15 minutes B became fatigued and began to drift off, but his breathing was regular and he appeared to be in a very relaxed sort of groove. Those moments caused the space inside my dome of heaven to shake every so subtly. I controlled the tears (mostly) and felt a sense of amazing relief that I had at least one opportunity to communicate with B, as did all those near his bedside in those moments. B rested quietly for the remainder of the day and through the night.
I had looked at death overtaking the life of a human for whom I had deep affection and then saw death rise up and leave my friend B with a little more of his lifetime for a while. The events of that day really got me thinking about death and life. I’ll share some of those thoughts with you tomorrow.
Until then . . . L