Holding Hands on the Threshold between Life and Death

With Jim, March 2015

With Jim, March 2015

My brother’s cell phone sings its song. He slowly picks it up from the tray table and leans back into white pillows with closed eyes. He seemed close to death a few days ago, although he’s stable now within a network of IV lines and medication. He’s tired after years of cancer therapy, but isn’t ready to quit.

Blue masks and Purell dispensers hang inside and outside his hospital door. Two squirts when going in and two when leaving. A sharpness stings my nose as the sanitizer dries, followed by a faint chemical afterglow.

Because he’s had aspiration pneumonia, Jim can’t swallow anything, not even an ice chip. While he dozes, I open my thermos of green tea and inhale the astringent steam.

His eyes pop open. “I wish I could have a cup of tea,” he says.

DSC05277“I wish you could, too,” I say as I close the thermos. It feels unfair to sip tea. It’s unfair to walk outside and feel the warmth of the sun. There is nothing fair about suffering, but I’m grateful for time together with unguarded hearts.

I fill his paper cup with ice cubes to keep the sponge swab cold. He wipes the inside of his mouth with moisture. The paper cup teases with images of steaming coffee.

Nothing fair about it.

I had a dream,” Jim says. He never mentions dreams, so this feels like a nod toward my world.

India 1993

India 1993

“Tell me,” I say.

“An Indian family was buying food and preparing for a wedding,” he says.

“Were you a character in the dream?” I ask.

“No. I watched. It was like a long documentary.”

“This month, I’ve had three dreams of Indian families or Indian women watching over me,” I tell him as I note the mysterious ways my psyche is related to his.

His eyes flutter shut. Facing him, I silently repeat my favorite crisis mantra, the one I used when my husband was dying. Om Mani Padme Hum. Om Mani Padme Hum. His eyes flutter open in five minutes.

DSC04871

With Jim and a many-breasted sculpture, 2014

“What’s happens when you close your eyes?” I ask. “Are you sleeping?”

“No, not sleeping.”

“Is it like meditation?”

“Yes,” he says. We learned to mediate in the late 1960s. I kept the practice for life, although he didn’t. “It’s quiet with images floating through. I just imagined you coming on a boat to get here and having to cross a border.” His shoulders lift in an “I-don’t-get-it” shrug.

“There can be psychological or imaginal truth that isn’t rational, physical truth,” I say.

He nods yes, maybe to be agreeable or maybe because he’s experiencing the permeability of the psyche in his weakened state.

He’s never been to India, but I’ve been three times. My dreams reminded me of a protective aspect of the Divine Feminine revered in South India. I also feel I’m crossing a deep inner border over the watery unconscious to join him in his threshold world.

Elaine & Jim, 1948

Elaine & Jim, 1948

I’m glad you’re here,” he says.

“I need to be here for my sake,” I say.

“What do you mean by that?” he asks.

“When I’m at home seven hours away and you’re struggling for your life, I long to be with you. I want to see you and kiss you. I want to hold your hand and say hello and goodbye. You’re my brother.” He smiles and closes his eyes again.

I’m happy to wrap him in warm blankets when he’s cold. I want to know what’s going through his mind. I want to save him, although I can’t. While he’s trying to get stronger, I want to support him. When he decides he’s had enough, I want to support that, too.

His eyes pop open. His pale green eyes look deeply into my brown ones.

DSC04360“Love,” I say. “That’s why I want to be here. Love.”

 ***

Have you been at the bedside of someone who is very ill? What helped them most? How did you deal with our culture’s insistence on distracting people from the obvious, telling them how well they look, and giving them false hope. I admit it’s hard to resist. I try to let my brother lead the conversation, let him be quiet when he’s quiet, and help with small comforts. I try to find a place of inner quiet for his sake and my own. For other articles about my relationship with my brother since he was diagnosed with cancer, see Waiting for Another Dance and Soul Care in Hard Times.

51 Comments
  1. Thank you again dear Elaine. What do you need?
    Love,
    Lori

    • Thank you for asking, Lori. I’m home. My brother is holding on and making tiny positive improvements each day. This is the way his life is now. His body is weak although not as weak as it was last week. His will is strong. I canceled most everything I had planned this week so I could stay home, walk the trails, and watch the birds. I’ll return to my brother’s world next week unless there is a crisis before then. Sending love and gratitude back your way.

  2. This is such a beautiful, poignant post Elaine. I can feel your deep sisterly love permeating through your words on the very page. Your task seems an arduous yet simple one, all at the same time. For just being there, and holding Jim’s hand, listening to his dreams seems more than enough. This is where language fails us all, for as India re-orientates you both and you find yourselves ‘below’ on the same continent, my heart weeps with joy.

    The company we give to those we love and care for during these heart-breaking times is vital. I call them moments of pure grace. When I was 29 years old my best friend (she was 34 years old) died of cancer. At the very end I was nine months pregnant, and ripe to burst. My last visit was two days before her death and up until then my unborn daughter always slept during my visits.

    However, on the last visit my baby was almost jumping up and down, moving vigorously. I remember the visit well and how in that moment I felt paradoxically held between life and death. I sat, shook and talked, cried, held her hand, while slowly, minute by minute she was dying before my eyes. I have not thought of these graceful moments for a long time. Blessings, Deborah.

    • Thank you, Deborah. I look forward to the exquisite piece you’ll write about your experience with your unborn daughter and your best friend’s death. What grace! With my brother, I learned once again that when we show up and sit with someone who is ill or grieving, something healing happens for the soul, even if not the body.

      I explored the image of Mother India, as I think of Her after three visits there. Death was so public and in the open. Vic took photos of a poor man’s funeral as his family wheeled him to the burial ground in a cart lavishly decorated with flowers. Women and children walked alongside with more flowers and tears, but also songs, prayers, and a sense of joy. We experienced the same openness about death and grief when the 99-year-old head of South Indian Hinduism Sankaracharya died when we were there. His presence was the main reason we’d gone to India three times. What a funeral celebration it was, and again that joy because there is a sense that the end of this life leads to incarnation in another. My brother doesn’t have any religious beliefs, but I felt the India connection was an unconscious reassurance that there is something to celebrate about death. He didn’t ask for an interpretation and I wouldn’t presume to give one. Just listening seemed enough. Sending blessings back to you.

  3. My own family tend towards the sudden death, the heart attack, the aneurysm, however both of my wife Susan’s parents died in hospital slipping into semi-consciousness then unconsciousness, surrounded by close family in bedside vigils. I remember being inwardly angry with members of the family who brought in foodstuffs and treated the occasion as a picnic. Also frustrated when they talked about the dying person as if they were not there. I remember whenever my wife spoke, her apparently otherwise unconscious mothers head (skin smoothe and waxy slightly greenish tinge) would slowly , almost imperceptibly turn towards the source of the voice. I also remember when Susan’s father died last year, as he lay there in his last hours, his niece playing his favourite tunes and singing gently into his ear, which hopefully he heard. It certainly helped everyone else..
    I’ve never felt the need to give unnaturally false hope, far more effective to let the person talk about whatever they wish and offer support, reason and simple love. Having cared for the elderly and the dying in my job as a psychiatric nurse I’ve found that the dying patient can talk to a compassionate nurse more honestly and frankly than they can to family though, of course, personal circumstances and family relationships vary enormously.
    Simple sentences such as “I’m glad your here” become penetrating truths.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience, Brian. You know this world of dying well. I just wrote a response to a comment about experiencing death in India where a funeral ritual holds both joy and grief. Food is offered to the dead as part of the ritual. Not a picnic. While my husband was dying, we read poems and passages from books that were important to him. Or we meditated and kept silence. Everything was focused on him. I’ve learned a lot from hospice volunteering and through experience. My brother has a few short-term goals and he isn’t ready to give up, so I support him in that without burdening him with my expectations.

      To me, false hope feels like a way we protect ourselves from the reality of what is happening to the person we’re with. It creates a distance because the sick person can’t be honest or might even feel they have to pretend to be OK and not be sad or whatever they’re feeling. I so agree with your last sentence. I’ll add those magic words, “I love you.”

  4. Your presence at your brother’s side is priceless and so tender. I’ve experienced both the “for my sake” and “for love” reasons for being present but hadn’t thought about that way for a long time. Thanks for sharing this story.

    • It’s an interesting mix of a complete disruption of what my ego thinks I should be doing (writing an article, planting the garden, cleaning out the cellar, and all the rest) mixed with an opportunity to drop all those concerns and enter that other world of hospitals and illness. I experienced an incredible connection and grace by putting everything aside and being there. I’ll return next week. I feel I’m connecting something so deep in my relationship with my brother and touching connections that were strongest before we married and had our own families. Thanks for your comment, Monica. We’re all so busy, so each comment is precious to me.

  5. Such a beautiful written piece, Elaine. Heartbreaking and beautiful. I’m so glad you’re able to spend these quality moments with your Brother, it’s clear that you have a special relationship with him, and he with you. I hope he continues to improve, and that you are able to rest up this week. God bless, Kimmie.

    • Thank you, Kimmie. I’m having a quiet week with beautiful spring weather. I helped plant 13 free baby trees this morning, a perfect thing for me. I’ll go back to the big city to be with my brother in a week or earlier if he has new troubles. For now, he’s hanging in there and we talk each day on the phone. I hope you’re seeing a clearing in the trail in your world. Sending those blessings right back.

  6. What a precious, sacred opportunity to be with someone while they are dying. As precious and sacred as giving birt, or attending a birth. I have had this opportunity with my mother in law, my sister in law, my father and my grandmother. I learned that just being with them, loving them, witnessing until they begin to go to a place I could not, not yet anyway, were the most holy of experiences I have ever had. Along with giving birth to my two children.

    I missed this precious opportunity with my husband. He died instantly in a car/motorcycle crash. I kissed him good bye for his short ride. It turned out to be the last time I saw him. Literally, because I was not allowed to view his mangled body.

    I am so sad that we miss these opportunities to journey, part way, with the dying in this culture. We seem to be obsessed with youth, beauty, and perfection. Perfection is the only boring thing I know of in this life.

    It is in the imperfect, and the messiness that we find God.

    • I agree, Deb. The most holy of experiences, right up there with giving birth. It’s heartbreaking that you didn’t have this opportunity with your husband. Have you found ways to nurture deep contact with your husband even though you weren’t there for his last breath? I imagine you have and hope that isn’t an invasive question. I understand how little I am in charge and how little my desires matter when death arrives suddenly–and I have never had this happen with someone very close. Even with my brother who lives at a distance, will I actually be with him for his last breath? I hope so, but as you say, this world is imperfect and messy. I understand how fortunate we are to make these connections and say goodbye and I love you.

      I hope our culture is changing. I know that in being with my brother, I feel a soulful connection with others who have died going back to our dad who died in 1959.

      • Elaine,

        The only way I can describe this past year, since my husband died, is I have been shattered. I am fragile a lot of the time, and other times, paralyzed with grief. I have not even been able to think about connecting with him. Sometimes I curse God, the divine and the universe. Other times,I have glimpses of some kind of “understanding”.

        Your question was not invasive. I thank you for it.

        I hope to become more clear and functional so that I might find some connections with my husband.

        I am in therapy now, under a doctor’s care and have finally accepted that I am depressed layered on top of the grieving . So now I take a small dose of Wellbutrin, working closely with my doctor to see if this can get me to a better place so I can be more clear, accept that he is dead, and begin working with all of this new reality.

        ThNk you for asking. And thank you for this blog.

        • Deb, I’m glad you’re getting more support. You’ve been through a nightmare that keeps going on. I had a much easier situation and it still took two years to feel like I might love life again–just a little. Meanwhile it helped in small ways to keep looking for beauty, kindness, the small miracles of life. This didn’t make grief go away, but gave me a second place to stand if only for a moment. I did this when I was in my brother’s hospital room because it’s become a practice. I noticed the tender care of a nurse named Rose, the ray of sun coming through the window, the flowers someone sent that weren’t allowed, but staff took a photo and sent the photo to my brother. I tried to notice that there was something else happening outside my circle of grief. Thank you for being honest and willing to share your hard experience.

  7. This made me teary. I resonate with your ability to sit with your brother, to be with him in his struggle, to not have an agenda, just to sit, and see what comes. I did that with my sister. I remember one day when I was taking her to the toilet, she said to me, ‘I guess I’m dying’. I was so glad that I was able to be honest with her and to open that door to talking about it. She was afraid. We put her in hospice the last week of her life, and she resisted going there. She was afraid she would die alone. I told her someone would always be there with her, in her room, and my mother and I took shifts. Whenever she opened her eyes, the first thing she’d do is look around to make sure someone was there. And we always were. Your post brings forth all those poignant memories of sitting with her, helping to guide her toward her passing. In many ways it was the most important work I have ever done. Much of it was work. But much of it was tender and sweet. I wrote a blog about those days, too, and those with my mother, 11 months later. I am glad I wrote it down. It sounds like you are taking care of yourself in all of this, too, which is important. I wasn’t so good at that.

    • Tricia, this is the second comment from a woman who didn’t get a long goodbye with her husband but had to deal with sudden death and shock. Even though you didn’t mention it, I immediately thought of it. How wonderful you could be there with your sister and help her across. If you wouldn’t mind, please send me links to those blogs. I’m beyond behind on reading because of all the time away plus my mother-in-law’s growing needs, but I want to read about your time with your sister and mom. I’ve read some of your blogs and have your book, so if these stories are in the book, tell me where to find them. You write beautifully, and I look forward to reading your book soon.

  8. Oh my dear. What can I say. Thank you for sharing this with us.

    • Thank you, Paula. It’s a gift when we can sit in silence and drop all the family and social expectations for a short time. I’m sure you’re becoming expert at that.

  9. Thank you, Elaine. My brother died recently of a massive heart attack, alone.

    I talked to him a few days before he died, and I was helping him with a project he was writing. I was typing and editing it for him. I just finished it a few days ago–having to make decisions without him about what he meant. Working on it has been a way of being with him.

    I also just attended a retreat on Living and Dying–shedding more light on a process we all will experience.

    • Oh, Lynne. That’s hard for everyone left behind. What a great way for you to stay in contact through your mutual writing project. I got into a little project of making some of Vic’s work available, too. It made me feel connected to what mattered to him. The retreat sounds good. Was it in Ithaca or not too far? Thanks so much for sharing your experience, Lynne, and I’m sorry about your brother’s death.

  10. I’m glad you can talk to him on the phone. My brother who died five months ago told us he didn’t want to talk about his illness and since he lived in another country and i’m bad talking on the phone it was quite difficult. I have accepted all the limitations we all had. He had his children around him and that was a lot. I went to visit him for a week.
    Your brother looks at peace, i’m sure he loves having you around. Hugs.

    • Nati, I’m sorry your brother died and you weren’t able to be in contact with him as much as you wanted to be. It’s good he had his children around him. I don’t know what we can do other than accept the limitations of relationships (they all have them) and take in the love. It’s good to let the sick one lead the conversation about illness. I ask questions, but sometimes my brother isn’t interested in answering them. My brother isn’t agitated, but he’s fighting hard for his strength. He has a few short-term goals. I hope he gets to do all of them.

  11. I’m sorry for you and your brother Elaine. I know how hard it must be to watch him fade, and equally difficult for you if you weren’t there.
    Yes, unfortunately I have been at the bedside of a few loved ones more than I’d like to count. It does feel like an awkward space. I feel the need to say positive things to them and about them, when we all know that we are covering the inevitable. We just have to adapt to the current feel of the moment. I’ve learned when it’s good to chat and when silence is okay too.
    Sending you and your brother healing prayers and hoping you have someone there who can be there for you too. xo <3 Hugs, Deb

    • Thank you, Debby. My brother and I are comfortable together and silence is our friend. I stay positive, but also realistic and not falsely cheerful. That feels like a denial of his difficulties. I think it always depends on the relationship. I paid attention to his response to visitors and noted that he was energized and engaged when his illness was acknowledged, whereas he was more withdrawn when people felt they had to cheer him up with stories about things like traveling or grandkids. You’re right that we have to adapt. Thanks for the prayers. I get worn out, so I’m also getting practice in self-care. I hope life is calming down in your corner. I haven’t checked for a few days, but I hope to today.

      • I’m happy to hear you are taking care of yourself. I do know that I sometimes ‘suck’ in that department, but I do know I’m trying, as we are no good to anyone else if we aren’t well.
        Hugs and peace to you, xoxo

  12. So sweet that you and your brother have this love for each other, Elaine. I’m sorry you’re losing him. I’m sorry we lose those we love and the we eventually lose the life we love. Holding you in peace. I’m here for you. Call or write anytime. Love, Jenna

    • It is sweet, Jenna, and I’m grateful. Facing mortality with someone often deepens the connection. I’m getting to know my brother in new ways. Thank you for your love and your offer. I’m having a quiet week in beautiful spring weather. You remember northern spring when the world is suddenly a thousand shades of green and the body drops those tight winter shoulders? A deep exhalation.

  13. “There can be psychological or imaginal truth that isn’t rational, physical truth,” . –
    That is certainly a wise statement.. I agree with you….
    A very moving post, dear Elaine… I hint the women which showed up in your hubby´s `dreams´could be related to the archetypal Mother Goddess, somehow.
    And that they represented Care and protection…
    I usually dream in the shape of documentaries… My dreams might be lon stories with quite well structured plots… I truly like when I can remember them… I have had a prophetic dream not long ago involving someone very closed to me… the message was something like a broke up… we were in the best moment of our relationship, so at that time It didnt make much sense to me… But after months that person radically changed, in a quite drastic way and everything was exactly as my dream warned me about…in spite of the symbolic scope, of course.
    Thanks so much for sharing… this was a very deep and poignant post… Love and best wishes. Aquileana

    • Thank you, Aquileana. My husband had a lifetime connection with inner worlds, spiritual exploration, and meditation. He and I shared dreams until just a few days before his death. His last dream foretold his death clearly. I’ve written about it in my book.

      My brother is a very different person with an extroverted focus and no spiritual practices. I’m not sure I’d ever heard my brother mention a dream/vision before. I agree with your thoughts about the archetypal Mother Goddess. His dream was also of India where death is celebrated as well as mourned. My continuing dreams since coming home reinforce the image of the Great Mother.

      Thank you for the story of your dream (although it sounds like a painful experience, so I’m sorry you were hurt). I love exploring dreams. They usually know more about what’s happening in my life than I do and show me a wider perspective. I write down every dream along with a few lines about what was going on in my life at the time. Dreams were especially helpful in deepest grief because I was flooded with images that showed the possibilities of new life long before I could feel hope.

  14. I so would like, one day, to experience dying in such a positive, grace-filled, gentle way. My loved ones who died did not get to face their deaths. We did not get to talk, or watch the experience. Or really “be” with each other or with peace in the process. Thank you for sharing this.

    • I’ve been fortunate, Robin, but these little bits of conversation came from four days of sitting together often in silence or often dealing with the practicalities of needing warm blankets or more ice chips. We were quiet and we talked a little. His world view is so different from mine, but he accepts that and so do I. As a writer, I probably make more of what is said than my brother does. Main thing is he’s glad I’m there and I’m glad I’m there. Just showing up is a way to acknowledge our love.

  15. They also serve who only sit and wait…I learned this when my son Geoff was in Iraq…We share our energy with our loved ones in so many ways beyond our conscious comprehension. .I have been thinking of you alot and am glad the weather has been so great..13 trees..really nice..Things have been really very good here and I am grateful..I am so aware of the changes I see coming this Spring..may your transitions be gentle and timely and full of birdsong,green greetings and loving memories..I am here if I can do anything to help..xoxo

    • So true, Alicia. The trees were tiny seedlings, but they had to be planted with protection so the deer wouldn’t munch them. Thank you for being there and for being a friend.

  16. Thank you sharing Elaine. I missed out on my brother growing old with me, but we lived a great relationship in my minds eye. When Dad was sick we talked about Albert; how we missed him and where we would be in his life too. I know it’s tough to go through, but I’m glad that you both can be together for this. Thank you.

    • Thank you, Ann. You’ve lost many close people in your family, so you know. It’s hard, but I’m grateful I can be with my brother through this. Today on the phone he said, “This is just life.”

  17. Elaine, Om Mani Padme Hum. Om Mani Padme Hum. To you and to your brother.

    I am close to my only brother also even though he lives four hours away and we only see each other occasionally. The picture from 1948 above could be us in reverse just a few years later. I’m the older by three years and was born in 1948.

    The closest I have come to being present with the dying was being by my father’s side in 1980. He could not eat or drink either, and he shot darts with his eyes if we ate in front of him. He responded so well to those who just held his hands and looked into his eyes. And he felt terrible when a relative bounded into his room in a tuxedo, fresh from a wedding, so full of life. No fault of the relative, of course, but a lesson to me in what the dying need.

    I also connected to the description of long periods of silence punctuated by discussions of dreams. My father’s dreams bordered on hallucinations, but they also brimmed with symbolism that convinced me of the reality of the spiritual realm on the other side of death.

    Holding you in my heart, knowing that you will find sustenance in nature and with Willow.

    • Thank you, Shirley. I said that mantra silently since it wouldn’t mean anything to my brother. My brother and I live 7 hours apart. For the past 15 years, we’ve made more effort to see each other. Life becomes precious…
      My brother is even tempered and unemotional (I’m the weepy one in my family), so when it’s all too much, he just closes his eyes. He sometimes called his imagery dreams and sometimes hallucinations. I only included a few instances here. He spends time in that watery world between waking and sleep. I see his imagery as deeply symbolically and surprisingly connected to my own dreams during this time.
      Thank you for your kind holding. I’m a little sad, but OK. My concern is with his wife and children because they’re having their lives turned upside down.

  18. Dear Elaine, this goes straight to my heart.. You have captured the sacredness of this time. What a gift that you can be there for your brother. I have been at the bedside of both friends and family as well as many patients in my career and can say that death can be a beautiful experience if we allow ourselves to view it as a transition and let the person lead the way, as you are doing. When my beloved father was dying in 2010, I was able to be at his bedside and hold his hand. Although he was in a coma for 11 days, I talked with him. My mother and siblings gathered around him talking to him and praying. I never thought I would be able to accept his death but when it came,, I felt so much peace in knowing that I was with him. Sending blessings and peace to you and your brother and his family.

    • Thank you, Kathy, and thanks for sharing your experience. It’s a time of open-hearted, unguarded connection with my brother even though it hurts. I love the way he doesn’t mind if I write about him or take notes or photos when we’re together. I’m still surprised by that, but it’s a gift he’s giving me. I hope you’re feeling stronger and getting used to the new routine. Spring is good tonic for all of us.

  19. Me and my brother shared a dream when my father died. I dreamed the first part of the dream. I was painting a garage for my father’s best friend in white paint. The old man who owned the garage disappered during my work. It was three days befor my father died. After my father died, my brother told me that he dreamed he wsa in my ton, riding towards a garage to pick up his friend, The doors of the garage opened and out came my father, riding on a motor bike (both my brother and my father were able to ride a motor bike. Before they took off, my father said to mt brother: we got to take her with us and he put me, as a baby,on the steering wheel. I started to collect dreams about the decesed and wrote a little book about it. It describes the travel our dreaming minds think our soul is going to make after death: http://www.lulu.com/shop/drs-susanne-van-doorn/a-dreamers-guide-through-the-land-of-the-deceased/paperback/product-21053663.html

    • Thank you for the link to your book. Vic and I did lots of dreaming and dream work during his illness–a continuation of the way we’d lived before he became ill. I wrote about his last dream in my book. It was a huge comfort since it made it so clear that his life needed to end. I also learned the comfort of grief dreams in the years after Vic’s death and wrote about this. Dreams offered a different perspective from the dark sorrow. Just eight days after Vic’s death, I dreamed I would live in the house of the Green Man, so that set the tone. My brother is an atheist who doesn’t usually dream or think about the inner life, but when I am there he has dreams with symbols that harmonize with my dreams and visions full of wisdom about his situation. I hope it helps him to tell me these dreams. It must help on some level or he wouldn’t tell me.

  20. What can I possibly add to this beautiful loving outpouring of respect for you, your life and your being? Being with the dying is never an easy path but you choose it without a whimper, though God knows you are in Divine prayer and your writings make us privy to your inner turmoil. I send you love, blessings and great esteem. I am blessed to know you. May your brother achieve what he wishes from this stage of his life, and may the love between you follow wherever he goes.

    • Dear Therese, you added your love. And I’m grateful. When someone I love is dying, I want to be there. I know the love between us will remain. He was doing better for a week, but that’s reversed now. It’s hard for his immediate family to watch the strong father sink. His big retirement party that meant everything in the world to him was to be on April 29. He won’t be there even if he’s still on this shore. I’m leaving for his city today and will be there tonight. I’m grateful to Inanna for teaching me what it means to descend and grateful to Ninshubur for teaching me how to stay close to the edge and offer support without descending. I can support him and his family best in that way. Sending you love and gratitude. I am also blessed to know you.

  21. Elaine, thank you. This is so beautiful. I can feel the loving energy between you both. Thank God you were there with him. I have to say I didn’t realise he is so gravely ill .. yet in the grave-ness there is grace-ness …
    Yes, I have witnessed death and dying, in hospice and the death of my father-in-law. My brother and sister were with our mother in her last hours …
    My thoughts are with you and your brother, and his family…

    • I’m back in Boston tonight, Susan. Today they thought it was the end. Then he rallied and was wide awake tonight with all sorts of plans. This I know: Death is complicated and has its own agenda.

  22. This is beautiful, Elaine. I’m so sorry about your brother, though, and for you. Ever since I was a kid and learned that people in India incorporate joy into their funerals, I’ve been determined to see the positive side of death. I do believe there’s something on the other side of this life, and am so happy you’re helping your brother as he deals with this passage. I’m sure he’s also incredibly grateful for your gentle presence. Just the fact that the two of you love each other so much and are so close is beautiful. Many, many siblings don’t share this type of bond. What a blessing.

    I’ve spent time at the bedsides of a few dying people, most notably my father and my aunt. My dad had had an aneurysm and was not conscious, but I spent time alone with him, telling him things I wished I’d told him before, and weeping as I told him I’d just found out I was pregnant with my second child. That was very bittersweet, as my husband and I had only found out I was pregnant a week or so before my dad’s aneurysm. It was such a strange day–for obvious reasons but also others–because I’d spent the morning at a different hospital, having tests done because my doctor had some serious concerns about the health of the fetus. I also talked about that with my dad as he lay there dying, and then, three months later, when I had an amniocentesis, we got the good news that the fetus (my daughter) was healthy after all. So I’ve always wondered if maybe my dad–who died shortly after our “conversation” may have had something to do with my daughter’s health. It’s nice to believe, anyway.

    My thoughts and prayers are with you and your brother. xoxo

    • Thank you for the beautiful story about your father, Mary–and your healthy daughter. In life or death issues, when we are close to the threshold, miracles and mysteries spontaneously arise. In the last few days, my brother’s health worsened. This morning as I drove to the city where he lives, they thought he would die. Then he rallied. I saw him for an hour tonight. He’s ill and weak, but determined and present. Tomorrow I’ll spend more time with him. I thought I would see a limp dishrag of a man tonight and instead I saw a Teutonic Warrior with a will to conquer. No one thinks that’s possible, except him. We will see.

  23. I send you love and light, dear Elaine, and I hope you can feel my arms wrapped around you in a long, warm hug. I am holding your brother and his family in my thoughts and prayers ♥

    • Thank you, Marty. I’m wrapping myself in your hug and taking in those prayers. My brother is still here despite crisis after crisis. They didn’t do a big intervention today, but he rallied anyway. Palliative care is finally on board. As you might imagine, I’ve been suggesting that for years. Everyone is exhausted, including me after a 7 hour drive to get to Boston. I’m glad I’m here.

  24. Beautifully written. I work in healthcare and often am witness to these moments, though never a participant. I know these days are ahead of me, and hope that I face them with the same grace and dignity

    • Thank you, Jeremy. You are on the front lines in a place where you can help so many. One of the most helpful people in my husband’s death was a nurse who was a Vietnam War vet with a huge kind heart and a willingness to tell me the truth. My book begins with a conversation with this man as we stood together at my husband’s bedside. To me, it feels essential to find a way to invite the sacred into these moments. My brother died on April 26. He considered himself an atheist. We sang to him in his last hour and a sense of the sacred arrived–atheist or not.

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