Last Breaths of Life

I am writing this from Katy, Texas. My step father, Jim, is 90 years old and his health has been failing for quite some time. He surpassed the doctor's prognosis who put him on hospice 8 months ago. He has a strong constitution and healthy heart for a man of his age, and the way I see it, he just isn't ready to let go. How much of our will, at this point in life, matters, I wonder. A week ago, he woke in the morning, ate a small portion of cereal, went back to bed, and hasn't awoken since. The doctors recommendation was to let him be, not worry about him eating or drinking, just let him sleep. A hospice nurse has been over every day for the past week. The belief of hospice is that everyone has the right to die pain free and with dignity. An incredibly compassionate caregiver came yesterday. She gave Jim a sponge bath, washed his hair, even shaved his sparse facial hair, all while he slept away. The emotional support and knowledge they share in what to expect these last days is invaluable. Yesterday, the kind, caring nurse told us that when he takes a turn for the worse, it will be very clear. She warned us not to be afraid, and described what he may go through.  

When I arrived and saw him for the first time, I thought it was quite beautiful to see him sleeping so deeply, comfortable and cozy, his body completely relaxed. My mom covered him in nice blankets as she did her very best to keep him warm and content as he could be. He was surrounded by the energy of love from family.  I can't think of a better way for him to have gone, as his body slowly shut down. As the nurse put it, he was dying a natural death.  

Last time I visited my family in Texas was about 4 months ago.  One of Jim's favorite poems was the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner.  He had memorized it many years ago. One day, I got the book from the bookshelf and sat with him.  His mind wasn't nearly as sharp as it once was, but with some prompting, he was able to recite Part 1, which was very impressive since this poem has nine parts.  It was a beautiful experience for which I am very grateful. The second day I was there, my sister, Jen, and I read all nine parts to him.  There was ever so slight recognition- his breath became lighter and his eyes opened halfway and there was no doubt he heard us.  

Since the the time I began to write, Jim has passed on. The third day I was there, my mom was in the bedroom with him when she noticed a change in his breath. She said that he suddenly opened his eyes and looked right at her, almost as if he needed to see her one more time. She called me in to the room saying there was something wrong. The moment I arrived, he took his last breaths of life. Later, she told me that over the years, she would catch him staring at her and she would ask why. He would answer that he just enjoyed looking at her. They were sweethearts, my mom said.  

The natural cycle of life and death is sometimes hard to accept. It is those of us who are left in this world who suffer. I've experienced the pain and heartbreak of death yet know that our loved ones live on in our heart. Our dearest Jim is now at peace. If there is a heaven, he was heading straight there, I am sure of that.