Today I watched someone die. I had watched him become weaker and weaker over the last two days, and this morning he was too weak to stand or get out of bed. I sat and held his hand and gave him water mixed with ice chips that he seemed to gratefully take in. He had tremors for a while then he subsided, and for a time the only sounds in the room were the ssslip, chuuunk, ssslip, chuuunk of the oxygen machine and the rattle of him trying to get breath into his lungs. After a time, the breaths got further and further apart until there was an exhalation with no inhalation. And he was dead. It was peaceful.
We all sat with him in the room and said our goodbyes. We shared memories and stories as we stayed with him. We were waiting until his daughter, driving furiously home, came here before we called the police and got society involved. His daughter came, said her goodbyes, and then we called. And that’s when the natural world ended and the performance began.
Flashing lights, hurried steps, uniforms and blaring radios. His simple passing, as natural as a birth, was transformed into high drama. And then later, the funeral home people arriving with their blue latex gloves and their hastily donned ties, for respect. They zipped him into a bag and carried him somewhat clumsily down the ramp, onto the gurney, into the anonymous sports utility vehicle.
Maybe the processing of death in a ‘civilized’ society has to be this performance. But I was privileged enough today to be shown the real thing; the quiet harmony and natural rightness of a passing when its time has come.