I helped someone die today. Held Marie’s tired and bruised hand and talked her through letting go.
I was honest — as I know she would want me to be —
and relayed the final truth without a coat of sugar.
The truth that this time she wasn’t going to bounce back. That they wanted to cut her open again and clean
the guts of this stubborn infection. That the tubes had to come
out and she would forever breathe through a hole dug in her throat.
The truth that her cherished independence would be filched and she would be under someone’s care in a home of weakness, popsicle stick crafts and wafts
of urine. With tears slipping down my face and falling onto her brittle
hand I offered the dignity of choice and asked if this is what she wanted.
She looked at me through her cataract milky eyes. I knew she understood but she couldn’t respond because of the tubes
feeding her air like a decorative aquarium chest.
But Marie’s treasure was spent.
She moved her head from side to side like a pendulum. “No” she mouthed closing her eyes with final thoughts racing through her healthy
mind She didn’t want this new quality of life.
She didn’t want this fight.
She looked up at me while they injected morphine into the IV bag. The gaze lifted as her eyes rolled into her head like a junkie. They pulled the breathing
tube from her mouth — unrolled like a tape measure — and switched
off all of the machines except for one that monitored her beat.
Gurgles rose from her throat sounding like a child pushing air through a straw into a glass of milk. I held her hand tighter as she faded
deeper into the task of giving in. “You will always be with me,” I repeated.
“Tap me on the shoulder to let me know when you visit.”
She gazed at the ceiling mouthing words that only the dead could hear. She saw
them reaching out to her—Ted, Manny, Duckie — and grasped their hands as they escorted
her into death. One final blip on the screen and she left without dramatics.
She simply closed her eyes and stopped living.
Later that evening the stress of the past month released like a slow leak
in a birthday balloon. I sunk into the mattress like it were a cloud and dreamt
of a younger Marie. Smiling like how I wanted to remember her. I felt
a tap on the shoulder and smiled knowing it was her letting me know she was there. Just as I had asked.
© Robert P. Langdon