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Death: The Final Frontier

Its a hell of a thing, watching a person die.

I've been a witness to death three times.

Once, when I was a young clerk, I saw a man die in the parking lot of a store. An apparent heart attack. His name was Frank. I knew nothing about him, but, when I went back inside, I said a prayer for him, and wondered who he left behind, if anybody. What type of man he was, all the things he's seen or done in his life. After a while, I just stopped thinking about it. That was my first "experience".

The second came when my Father-in-Law, Umberto, passed away. My wife and I were just dating then. She got a call at work from her sister. The same type of call that many of us have gotten: "You better get up here, things are taking a turn for the worse". So I met my wife at work, and drove up to see my future Father-in-Law. He was in a room, hooked up to an oxygen machine, a blanket over his legs, in a wheel chair. His breathing was labored. The weirdest breaths I've ever heard. His whole family, save for his son, was there. Somehow, everyone left the room except for my wife and me. As my wife held him in her arms, his breathing became more infrequent. I remember actually counting how long it took for each breath to come. Last I counted was eight seconds. As my wife stroked his hair, and said "Its OK Dad, go ahead", he lurched forward, opened his eyes as wide as possible, looked straight at my wife, and took a heaving last breath. And that was it.

As everyone filed into the room, I left to walk around the house. Looking around at everything this man had amassed over his life, looking at all the pictures hanging on the wall, the baseball memorabilia collections he loved so much, his bar, which he built himself, his favorite chair. I just found myself walking around, bawling my eyes out over a man that I new too little, and cared for too much.

Almost after he was taken out of the house, you could see factions taking place. My wife's blood family on one side, his second wife's family in the other. Things got relatively nasty divvying up his estate, but he was a shrewd old man. Left certain things unknown to certain people, and known only to a few others.

He was a good man.

The third came just this past May when my Mother-in-Law died. (I've written a lengthy memorial here, so I won't get into to much detail) We found out she had I guess what you'd call level 4 lung cancer, and within two weeks of finding this out, she died. Things were OK up until about the last week. She was terribly afraid to lay down, much less go to sleep, I'm assuming due to the fear of never waking again. She didn't want the hospice packs, as I know she viewed them as "Death packs". For the whole week, I'd say she slept a total of 6 hours. She was on an oxygen machine. I hate the sound of those. There's a refrigeration system at work that sounds exactly like one, and whenever I hear it, I just want to bash it to pieces.

It got pretty bad towards the last two days. She would not sit still, she would try to rip her clothes off, and towards the very end, she would scream out names of family members that were dead. All very eerie. Expected, but, so sad to see such a vibrant soul deteriorate to someone unrecognizable.

After a few days, I told my wife to just give her the hospice medicine. Morphine for the pain we knew she was in, and Ativan for the anxiety we knew she had. After a while, none of it works, and the will to die became too overwhelming for her.

At 5:00am, on a beautiful May spring morning, after about 45 minutes of sleep, I walked into Barbara's room and knew she had gone. For some odd reason, I have a stethoscope, so I tried that. Heard nothing but what seemed to be my own racing heart. So I morbidly got a small mirror and placed it under her nose, which revealed no breath.

I went to tell my wife, who came in, sat by her mother of 46 years, and we both broke down into sobbing tears. I went outside, prayed, and cried. The usual phone calls were placed to family members.
I went back in before hospice arrived, said a prayer, kissed her forehead, and murmured "in pace requiescat".

She was a good woman.

Death sucks, but it's part of life.

I've been around so much of it, directly and indirectly, that I'd think I would be desensitized by it now.

But the older I get, and the closer I am to the ones that pass, it just gets harder and harder.

Death really does suck.


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Comments (24)

OK, I'm strange. But I hav... (Below threshold)

OK, I'm strange. But I have my own view. You've been sick before, I guess I'm sure (haven't we all?). And felt awful. And recovered. What you don't see "from this side" is what really matters. They take their last breath and their spirits are received by our Father. "Father, into thine hands I commit my spirit." And they are still alive. :) And in glory.

I've been to Heaven. A person doesn't want to come back. I didn't want to come back. I loved everyone - but it was so wonderful and glorious. As much you wept when they left you - I wailed, almost, when I had to come back here. It's so much better in Heaven.

Death is not "the final frontier". It only looks that way from one side of the "fence". On the other side are things so wonderful they cannot be expressed in human terms. Perfect love. Perfect joy. Perfect happiness. A soul completely satiated and saturated in such goodness, love, mercy and peace. There is such beauty indescribable.

The sufferings of this present hour - even in death - are not worthy to be compared to the surpassing glory that is just over the horizon... of what you had thought was "the final frontier".

It's not the end. It's a new beginning... and unfolding wonderful excellent indescribably wonder of greatness and such beauty.

Do not weep for those who have gone before you. They have forgotten the pain, I think... as a woman in travail forgets the pain as a new child is brought forth.

You thought they died. That's what it looks like from this side.

But really, from the other side, they have just been born, in a way, into the new beginning of what awaits us just past the fence.

It's like stepping through the Alice's looking-glass...into wonderland.

Heaven smiles. And those who have gone before smile. If they could kiss you, they would, and shall one day.

They couldn't kiss you... so the Lord sent me to tell you.. how beautiful and glorious it is to be in His presence.

I've been there.


Laura is correct. There is... (Below threshold)

Laura is correct. There is a book called "Many Lives, Many Masters" by Brian Wiess, M.D. that agrees with what Laura said. I have many patients that have relayed similar stories.

Don't be sad for the dead, be happy. They are in a beautiful place.

The sadness is for the survivors, who must live on in this world and continue to struggle.

Please read the book; you'll find it helpful. I gave it to a friend of mine who tragically lost her mother in 2007. It really helped her come to peace with her mother's death and her own potentially debilitating disease (multiple sclerosis).

I have been present as my m... (Below threshold)

I have been present as my mother-in-law, mother and father died within two years of each other. All three died in a hospice facility. In my parents case they consciously chose that option. My father-in-law chose it after caring for his wife suffering from Alzheimers for more than 10 years. I believe that in my parents case which involed different forms of agressive cancer (melanoma and esophageal cancer)that the hospice services were the best option.

I sense a reluctance of many families to use hospice and some backlash against the hospice approach to alleviating the suffering of dying persons. Relieving the pain resulting from the spread of cancer would not have been possible without hospice. The docors would just not be able to provide the same type of relief. I do not regret their choice. Had they not chosen hospice I have no confidence that their doctors would have been able to provide the relief from discomfort. In fact, I think the doctors that had been treating them for years were relieved when the move to hospice was made. They knew the patient was terminal and no longer had to deal with them was my impression. They weren't malicious or discourteous but they were clearly more comfortable ending the relationship.

My mother had visions of relatives and spoke of taking a trip. My father saw persons in the room that were not there. But they were not in pain although the pain without hospice would have been unbearable. Hospice was able to give dad significant doses of methadone as his cancer had spread to his bones. He resisted at first (but only for second or two) saying he could get addicted and that methadone was for addicts. He actually laughed at that after remembering his circumstance. The methadone was not a life saver but it did alleviate his pain and allowed him to be lucid more than morphine would have. Some morphine was given in his last hours to assist respiration.

Hospice is not perfect. Hospice has become more of an industry than a movement as it was when my mother died. She was the first of the three. In my opinion hopsice social workers, grief counsleors, are unnecessary. Providing relief of pain and discomfort is what they should concetrate on.

The most painful part of the death of these parents are the regrets of things not said, pain and disappointments I caused them while they were alive that can never be undone.

Death separates the living ... (Below threshold)

Death separates the living from the dead, and separation does indeed suck.

The dying process can be one of isolation, or of increased intimacy. The intimacy can be painful or endearing. It can mean personal growth or deterioration for the dying person and those around them. Bereavement is a complex process, and assistance (which can be minimal to be effective for most) can help many people. Bereavement counseling should not be cast off as unnecessary or unimportant.

Spiritual guidance tends to be the core for positive experience with death. Logical application of medical knowledge and technology can help relieve physical and emotional suffering. They are synergistic, not mutually exclusive.

Hospice, as any branch of medicine, has become institutionalized and commercialized. While you can find anecdotes that demonstrate negative aspects of this, hospice still serves many well and with integrity.

30 years as a cop, been to ... (Below threshold)

30 years as a cop, been to a lot of death scenes.
Don't care what anyone says, you don't get desensitized to it. People learn to cope in various ways, but you watch 'em close enough, you'll see a reaction.

I have watched people die. ... (Below threshold)

I have watched people die. I have experienced the silence of the oxygen machine, but more as a final signal that reality had changed.

My mother suffered from several strokes and "brittle" diabetes and she was sometimes lucid, sometimes not. We did finally put her in a nursing home where her blood sugar could supposedly be better controlled than at home. She fell, and the resulting surgery to fix her ankle resulted in a blood clot that killed her.

My resulting guilt over not having nursed her at my home, at not having taken better care of her was not tempered by the fact that she could have as easily fallen in my bathroom (more easily, in fact) than the one at the nursing home.

When my father married a close family friend, there was... of course, talk. Yet, after 10 years of living with this stepmother, I came to love her. Not in the way I loved my mother, but as a person worthy of my love, regardless kinship.

My stepmother had cared for her grandmother (who raised her, her mother having died young) and for her husband's mother and father, and for her first husband. None of these people were committed to nursing homes, they were all cared for in my stepmother's home, and because of her actions, my father could not bear to have her live out her life any other place. He chose Hospice, he hired daily help, he asked my sister and I to help... and we did partly because we had not been able to perform such service for our own mother, as she did die rather suddenly.

The breathing you describe is called Cheyne Stokes respiration. To battle it, my husband and I drove 90 miles round trip to a pharmacy at 3am for medication. Perhaps that extended her life, perhaps it made her suffer a few hours longer.

Her last words, "So hard, let go."

We want to live, don't we? Even those who commit suicide are asking what was missing that could make them want to live. I have no answer.

My father is a few months shy of 86 and he has outlived four wives. Yes, he married again two years ago. Though he vowed to never marry a woman his age (ie, likely to die on him) he married one just a few years younger.

What I've learned is that death is as spiritual as birth, and neither should be denied. This learning has occurred to an atheist, as I do not believe in a God, as Christianity, Judaism, or Islam portrays one.

Death doesn't suck. It's a... (Below threshold)
Jim Addison:

Death doesn't suck. It's a part of life, and a necessary one. We are born to die, as the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus points out.

Read his essay, and fear not the darkness.

My Mother also died of lung... (Below threshold)
James Cloninger:

My Mother also died of lung cancer. After the chemo/radio treatments became ineffective, she lived another 3 months or so. She couldn't sleep as well, which caused me not to sleep. I went through quite a bit of sleep deprivation for a week until I was able to get a night nurse to come in. She was on morphine slurry and ativan as well, but eventually they weren't as effective. Because the cancer metz'd to the brain, occassionally, she would substitute words in her speech. It was scary the first time she did it, I tell you. She was on Dilantin to prevent the seizures that usually occur.

Eventually, she would start sleeping, more and more. Soon, she would start calling out to people from her past. When she was lucid and awake, she would recognize me. Eventually, as she stopped eating and drinking, she would be semi-comatose, and she stopped acknowleging anyone. Breathing eventually became irregular.
I knew she would die during the night when then night nurse came, and she did, about 2 hours after her shift started and I was asleep (the nurse woke me up.)

He resisted at first (bu... (Below threshold)
James Cloninger:

He resisted at first (but only for second or two) saying he could get addicted and that methadone was for addicts.

I remember at first hating the fact that mother was on morphine, with the same thought ("She'll become an addict!"). Eventually, I realised that's a silly and moot point...she was dying, and not likely to need a rehab facility.

The most painful part of... (Below threshold)
James Cloninger:

The most painful part of the death of these parents are the regrets of things not said, pain and disappointments I caused them while they were alive that can never be undone.

In that, I was very fortunate. We had plenty of time to talk about and resolve and affirm. I discovered that after her death, she had left me a 10 page letter, basically restating the things we talked about, and her love. I still have the letter, safely tucked away.

I lost two very dear people... (Below threshold)

I lost two very dear people and watched both die, slowly. Both with cancer.

My mother-in-law whom I loved dearly and my kid sister (42) who dies last January.

Both were in hospice care at the end. Great, great program.

I miss them. ww

To what earthly purpose--ot... (Below threshold)

To what earthly purpose--other than the monumentally inappropriate baring of your own self-serving soul--did you write this? My god, what incredible hubris...

My god, what incredible ... (Below threshold)

My god, what incredible hubris...

To put yourself out there and vulnerably express your humanity is hubris? My, what a miserable SOB you must be.

Loadthemule: take a hike! ... (Below threshold)

Loadthemule: take a hike! Take your own advice and stop being so arrogant.

My father's death occurred just about a month ago, so the event is still rather fresh in my memory. My father's passing was so peaceful and all his family was present. He had been battling colon cancer for about eight years. I know in my heart he was ready to die. Knowing this and being at his bedside for his last breath brings me great comfort. My father was never really a spiritual man, but I have hope that I will see him again. Indeed, we never want to let go of our loved ones, this is our natural selfish thinking but find comfort knowing there's no more suffering.

LoadTheMule,I wrot... (Below threshold)


I wrote this with the express purpose to give bloviating shrews like you the chance to show just how compasionate some douche bags can be.

Well done, dolt!

Death is pain and loss. Th... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

Death is pain and loss. This is not to deny the truth of Heaven (and sadly, also Hell), but we should never forget that when Jesus came to the grave of His friend Lazarus, He wept.

We are entitled to grief.

Actually, you wrote it so y... (Below threshold)

Actually, you wrote it so you could wave your personal grief like a bloody shirt. We ALL grieve, my friend, but most of us don't do it in public. People close to you have died, it hurts, it's hell getting thru it--welcome to the club.

What I don't understand is what possessed you to get up yesterday and answer the question What should I write about today? with, "Gee, I know. I'll give 'em the details of my father-in-law and mother-in-law's deaths. I'll let folks see how much they suffered and how I nobly bore the brunt of it. I bet I can work in some philosophical stuff, too. Yeah, that's the ticket; that 'in pace requiescat' line is a good one."

And then you wrap it up with:

"Death sucks, but it's part of life.
I've been around so much of it, directly and indirectly, that I'd think I would be desensitized by it now.
But the older I get, and the closer I am to the ones that pass, it just gets harder and harder.
Death really does suck."

How insightful of you. And how talented--turning grief into a spectator sport...

Clay - Get a grip.
dee - I'm sorry for your loss.

This was a good article . .... (Below threshold)
Larry Dickman:

This was a good article . . . for The Portland Middle School Beaver Gazette.

Wow, death really sucks. I hope it doesn't happen anyone I know. Or worse, me.

#17 - LoadTheMule... (Below threshold)

#17 - LoadTheMule
Actually, you wrote it so you could wave your personal grief like a bloody shirt.

So, we should never discuss death? Why, because it is not macho? Maybe if more people were willing to discuss it, we might take life seriously. Maybe we might even respect the life of unborn children. Maybe criminals might respect the life they are trying to kill.

However, I suspect, in your opinion, blogs should only be written about politics. You know, after awhile, politics just sucks. Why not other topics? Why not allow a blog entry to give people a chance to grieve? All it takes is a little compassion, which you evidently have trouble expressing.

In all of this, I guess, I guess I just feel sorry for you mule. Without feelings, without emotion (other than anger), it has to be very unrewarding to live.

phaedrus I believe your pa... (Below threshold)

phaedrus I believe your parents are at peace and are proud of you. I experienced the same thought about disappointing my parents and after mom's funeral I realized she loved me and I felt no regrets.

I view our earthly existence as a learning experience in preparation perhaps for our spiritual existence.

Thanks everyone for sharing your experiences.
Great article Shawn!

My mom had alzheimers for many years before she died. She was a very sweet person.
My mother-in-law also very sweet died from pancreatic cancer and had hospice. Hospice was fantastic.
I miss them dearly but I am so happy they are no longer suffering.

So! Someone is finally talk... (Below threshold)

So! Someone is finally talking about the elephant in the room. Usually, we pretend that we are going to live forever, but nobody ever has. Death was promised to our forefathers if they disobeyed the one prohibition, and they when they did, they died immediately in their spiritual relation with their Creator, and began to die in their physical bodies.
Since then, every human being and every other created organism has a time limit. You might think it is bad, but it is really good. it would be terrible to live for ever in our perverted state. Most people are too blind to see that we are damaged goods and need re-creation to get back to a perfect state.
Death means separation from the world we lived in. It doesn't mean the end of all life. The soul is immortal, and the decisions we make determine in what condition our soul will exist for eternity.
After sin and corruption entered into our world, God, the Creator set in motion a plan to rescue His creation, especially the apex of it which had been given several of His attributes.
The only way He could undo the judgment against man that condemned him to death was for someone else to take his place. So, God sent his son, eternally God and the instrument of all Creation, to live a life of perfect obedience, then die on a cross 2000 years ago so that anyone who truly believes in Him will receive what He deserved, eternal life in the presence of the Father. It is a magnificent, merciful plan that is available to every human being who heres the message and believes. Even children can get in on the plan. In fact, Jesus said that we all had to become like little children in order to enter the Kingdom.
Welcome to those who want to kneel down to your Creator and Savior and receive the gift of eternal life: not continued existence in this messed up body and world, but real life, the kind that God has.

#19 - loveher"Why ... (Below threshold)

#19 - loveher

"Why not allow a blog entry to give people a chance to grieve?"

An excellent idea. Too bad that's not what Shawn did. Please illustrate his 'grieving' in the post. It's simply a recital of events surrounding the deaths of two people, the most recent of which died last May (and about whom he already wrote an article). Grieving? Hardly. Self-absorbed? Definitely.

"In all of this, I guess, I guess I just feel sorry for you mule. Without feelings, without emotion (other than anger), it has to be very unrewarding to live."

I'm not angry, I'm aghast. Please re-read Shawn's original post and show me where he 'discusses' death. All he does is bare his noble breast and offer a couple of juvenile platitudes.

As for an unrewarding life? Mine is very rewarding--both blessed and enriched by the people (living and dead) who are/were close,to me. One of the reasons it is rewarding is because I have as well-grounded sense of propriety . . . something you might pause to reflect on.

PS--Larry Dickman (#18) gets it. Give him a cookie.

Mule,You are one m... (Below threshold)


You are one miserable SOB.

Whose examples will I use but my own? Sorry there were only two upon which to reflect. And I choose to share that reflection with others here, who seeem to "get it" with alot more understanding than yourself.

So go back to burning ants or kicking puppies and live your "blessed" life.

You sure do sound like you're "blessed".

BTW, your friend Dickman is a resident troll. Congratulaions, you've made a new friend.

LoadTheMule:Fuck y... (Below threshold)
James Cloninger:


Fuck you and the mule you rode in on--Just because we have one thread that isn't talking about The One. Sometimes we do like to read about other things. If you don't like it, bugger off to WizBlue and cry over there.

And you can join him, Larry, if you don't like it either.






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