As I sit by his side, watching his chest, waiting for movement (validation that he is still breathing) my senses are alive. I hear his elder mother sing gospel hymns softly; hymns that she has known for 80 or more years. I feel his calloused dry hand in mine becoming colder. It seems that it is already lifeless. I am close to his head and smell the foul, dry breath that comes out of his mouth. I kiss his forehead as a reminder that we are still here with him. As she heads for the door, his wife speaks, “I’m going to have a cigarette.”
“No, mama,” I say strongly. “Stay here. Come sit next to me. It is time.”
I have been watching, observing. We have been waiting for death for days and the pattern of breathing I have come to know has changed in the last minutes. Somehow I know that if she leaves now she will regret it. She looks at me half surprised I gave her such a command and half questioning what “time” I allude to. Our eyes connect and she now understands as I begin to taste the tears running down my face. She comes to his side and takes my seat next to him. She begins to sing some song I have never heard about her baby’s eyes or his baby’s eyes maybe something blue eyes. I can’t follow as she barely sings. I am still holding his hand. His mother switches from hymns to prayers, naming her God in every way she can as if by doing so her son will be carried away by a group of Deities to Heaven. “Dear Jesus, Holy Lord, Heavenly Father, O Lord, Our Lord, Father in the Promised Land.”
The three of us hold vigil as his weak body seizes up to take its last breath. Exhale.
Pause. I close his eyelids.
There is something incredibly humbling and beautiful poignant to witness someone that you care for take their last breath. When you accompany someone through their end of days, it is not something you ever forget.
I had the opportunity to help take care of Tony for a few years before he died. He actually lived with us for over a year from the time when he could barely walk to the time when we could no longer properly care for him. During this time and while he was under hospice care, I fed him, I gave him his medicine, even awkwardly changed his diaper a couple of times. I would sit and watch endless reruns of Law and Order with him.
Much like death there are times in our lives that demand help from others; sometimes just to be a witness and testament to whom we are and what we represent. It is during the most difficult times, usually at the end of a chapter, when we are in the greatest need of an escort. And, we are all in need of escorts; someone to hold our hand, to plead for our soul’s happiness, to sing a love song, to remind us that they are still there, with us, escorting us to the next big thing.