“Should we put your husband on a ventilator?” they ask me.
“Can you give him chemo after he nearly died from the last one?” I ask.
“Can he survive without chemo?”
“Not with two kinds of aggressive lymphoma. Without a ventilator, he may die within an hour.”
“No ventilator.” I say after our family doctor tells me Vic would live on a ventilator a few weeks and then die in a drugged stupor. Vic would rather be conscious, but he can’t speak for himself now.
I slow down and drive the speed limit on this pink May morning. Death is winning. Vic fought hard, knowing he would lose. I surrender. With deep breaths of acceptance, peace settles in.
“Still no ventilator?” the doctors ask when I enter the hospital room. Even though Vic doesn’t speak, he tugs at the oxygen mask on his face, trying to pull it off. Our friend Steve is with Vic. I had taken a night off since doctors thought Vic would live weeks or months. This fast crash surprised everyone.
Friends gather to read passages from The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Sonnets to Orpheus by Rilke, sections from the Dalai Lama and Paul Brunton. Vic’s tiny hospital room becomes a sacred sanctuary while Death takes Her slow time.
2 1/2 days: Breathing, breathing, breathing. He gasps with the labor of each inhalation. I hold his hands, place my lips over his heart, and rub his feet with oil. Someone always touches him.
Vic opens his eyes for the first time in two days when our younger son arrives. He looks into Anthony’s eyes with clear consciousness. A Father’s blessing filled with grace. I’m grateful our son David was here a few days ago and wish he could be here now.
After Vic’s death, my hands feel the warmth over his heart for hours. I kiss his cold forehead and inhale his familiar smell.
That summer, I walk each day to the stone cairn in the forest where his ashes are buried. I feel his presence everywhere. The sun-warmed granite reminds me of his warm heart after death. On cold mornings, I kiss the stones and remember his cool forehead.
Even as my heart aches with searing pain, I feel the peace of surrender. Nothing to fix. Nowhere to go. Nothing to do. Nothing to fight or change.
I wrote about this experience in my book Leaning into Love: A Spiritual Journey through Grief, but needed to revisit it with the recent focus on ventilators and thousands of people gasping for life. How are you handling this time of covid19? Are you sad, depressed, anxious, angry, hopeful, or something else? As the world explodes and implodes, I once again walk to Vic’s cairn every day, trying to remember the art of surrender.
For other articles about finding beauty and peace in the midst of dying, see A Survival Guide for Life After Loss: Tending the Spirit. For an article about help from courageous friends, see In the Company of Friends.