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.