My husband died less than one hour after being hit by a car on his bicycle. I arrived at the scene before the ambulance did, and stood at the foot of his bed in the emergency room as he took his last breath. I watched the color leave his face, and I recognized the moment when his spirit no longer inhabited his body. And I consider myself one of the lucky ones, because I was there for his last moments surrounding him with my love.
Last week I sat beside the bed of another dying person, my great aunt Martha (pictured here with her sister at our 2006 family reunion...she is the one on the right). Auntie was a very spunky 90 year old girl with a zest for adventure, and one of the kindest hearts I have ever known. Two weeks ago she was in my kitchen cooking enchiladas for my kids, telling stories about her time in Australia, and insisting on helping with the dishes. Less than a week later she suffered a massive stroke, and our family sat by her bed as she struggled to separate her spirit from her body. As I stroked her hair and tried to decipher her garbled words, I realized that we were sharing our last moments. The severity of her stroke indicated that she would not recover from the brain damage that followed. And so I sat, knowing I was saying good bye.
Harder than saying my own farewell was being an observer to the pain of my family as they each wrestled with the concept of a life without their: wife, mother, sister, grandmother, friend, and beloved auntie. My uncle stood beside his wife and stroked her cheek in a beautiful display of love and affection. My mother kept vigil by auntie's bedside for over a week, playing music, adjusting pillows, combing her hair, and rubbing her feet. Auntie's children each spoke to her with love, and arranged things they knew she would enjoy...like putting the Laker game on in her room so she would know the score. As I came and went from the house she shared with her husband of over sixty years, I was overcome with how much love this lady showered on those around her, and how clearly they were impacted by having her in their lives.
Phil died so quickly that before I could get my head around the fact that his injuries were life threatening, he was already gone. There was no bedside vigil, or final words shared. Witnessing the gift being given to my aunt by every person willing to look death in the face, literally, was a powerful experience. As she lay in bed waiting to begin her next grand adventure, Martha was covered in love. She wasn't alone. The people who loved her held her hand, even though they were afraid, and in pain. I am in awe of this gesture of devotion, and so grateful that auntie was cared for with love right to the very end of her life.
I love you Auntie, thank you for teaching all of us the meaning of devotion.