Unfamiliar Surfaces

I wasn’t sure I’d be able to handle being present the death of someone I love.  It turned out to be a blessing; being present during the work of dying was the closest I could come to being part of his new world.  You’d think it might be horrible, seeing this man I knew intimately go from warm and breathing to cold and stiff, but the reality of it gave concrete form to the idea of death as a transition, rather than an end.

My husband declined rapidly in the days preceding his death.  Despite my worries, it became intuitively obvious when the end was near.  I couldn’t think of anything to do but stay by him, so that’s what I did.

His words and gestures showed no sign of suffering or struggle.  It was more as if he was learning the words of a new language, words that raced through him in a torrent.  He spoke both to me and to others who were not visible, but in words without consonants, as if the ideas he wanted to communicate were coming so fast that his lips and his tongue couldn’t keep up.  Even after he stopped talking, I could observe that he was moving between places, active and aware.

A month ago I wondered whether dying might be like being born.  In many ways it was, but it also felt like watching somebody learn to skate.  The learner talks himself through the motions at first, moving across the ice in jerks and halts, hanging onto a chair for balance.  Eventually the body gains intuition about  the unfamiliar surface and understanding takes over, until finally the skater is ready to let go.


5 responses to “Unfamiliar Surfaces

  1. Beautifully and carefully observed & described, despite the turmoil of the situation.
    I really ‘enjoy’ the idea of transition, moving between places , of death as one of many processes… enjoy is not the correct way to phrase it but it is a fresh slant for me, and is a comforting thought. Thank you for sharing this.

  2. Have you ever seen a film called The Event? It’s stunning, but you’ll want to have the tissues ready. There’s a part where Olympia Dukakis describes her son’s death, and she says, “There was so much love in that room.”

    It’s that line that I think of when I remember being at my mother’s side when she died, and when I read this piece, too. I’m sorry for your loss; I thank you for sharing your experience so beautifully.

  3. A beautiful translation of the language of dying. Thank you for giving this to us. This will stay with me.

  4. I found this astonishing, which is not meant in any way to be flippant or demean your writing or your experience, because both are … astonishing. The writing is strong and the experience totally different to anything I had imagined it would be. I thank you for having the courage to share this because I am sure it will help many people.

  5. Wow. This is just stunning work. So brave, so interesting. Very sorry about your loss, though. He was lucky to have you by his side.

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