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When the clock winds down February 13, 2012

Posted by therealtinlizzy in Uncategorized.

At the moment my partner’s aunt lies in hospice and is likely to die in the coming days.

My grandmother, the last of my grandparents to go, died a year ago October. The hallmarks of the experience for me were having the privilege of being there when she left, as well as being able to experience her death with no one else there, other than the hospice/assisted-living-facility staff. All of the relatives were gone, my mother, aunts, cousins – shooed away by me; they all had been variously keeping vigil all week, and had taken all the time they had needed and more to say their goodbyes. Upon my arrival from out of town circa 9pm that Sunday evening, I soberly asserted they should all head to their respective homes to rest for the night.

By that point my grandmother Margaret Dorothy (Menz) Olson, designated as officially in-hospice, was no longer conscious. She wasn’t dying of any particular malaise or disease – just her body’s equivalent of its servo mechanisms running down at the end of the road. Nothing at last to be fixed, oiled, replenished, replaced or upgraded – just time to let that beautiful old machine, which had served her for 91 years, come to its final halt.

I spent about 4.5 hours with her that night – all but an hour of which she remained living. Over that span, the process of her dying really was not unlike the winding down of a clock. Except I suppose that spring-driven clocks stop altogether at once when their springs run out of kinetic energy. Perhaps like a pendulum clock, when the weights hit the bottom, and the pendulum’s arcs grow smaller, slowly coming to a final halt. In any case – it was most definitely a study in slowing down – of breathing, of flowing, of beating, until all was still.

During those hours, I held to the beauty and dignity of that quiet sacred space, knowing innately the honor I possessed being able to bear witness to the passing of a human being, particularly the passing of my grandmother. This human known to me was quietly winking out of existence, and while there would be much to be mourned and remembered for the loss of her from the world – her death itself, as I watched it unravel before me, was to me in no way something to be fidgety or fussy or anxious about. It was time, that was all.

And while I sat there, I felt immensely grateful – both for whatever bit of my grandmother’s self/awareness remained and for my own peace of mind – that no one else was there. Some of the relatives would have been perfectly reasonable and peaceable to deal with, but certain others would’ve been no end of anxious and upset and negotiating with the care staff and freaked out every time my grandmother seemed to be stopping breathing. There would’ve been hand-wringing and making-it-all-about-oneself and needing one’s freaking out to be managed by everyone else. It would not have been a quiet and peaceful passing.

But by the happy accidental timing of the universe – my grandmother breathed her last in a quiet bubble of unfussified love, attention and peace. In the end did it matter to her? Who can say – I don’t know if/that there was much of any awareness left in those last few hours. Perhaps a brass band would’ve been just as peaceful to her by that point. And given my lack of belief in anything after death, having a peaceful exit of life makes no matter to me as to what comes (or rather doesn’t) after life has stopped. But do I feel that despite my assessment of there being nothing after life, that every last moment up until life is gone (and how it is spent by you and those around you) is still of meaning and value? Absolutely, 100%, yes.

I feel sad and brow-furrowed for my partner having to deal with a tumultuous, crabby, anxiety-laden family while one of their own lies dying in hospice. I know a big part of it is that we aren’t taught to be ok with the waiting, and the slowness, and the eventual dying. But I wish we were. I wish everyone with such an opportunity to “sit shiva” with a loved-one while they complete their dying could experience the quiet peacefulness I did with my grandmother. The reality that we all die sucks, but the dying itself can suck a little less if we let it.


1. Stefanie - February 14, 2012

Oh this is so beautiful! Thank you for sharing the story. What an uncommon and beautiful experience you had with your grandmother’s final hours. And hugs to Lisa.

2. therealtinlizzy - February 14, 2012

yeah – it was oddly lovely, and I feel fortunate. Hugs to you too – just cuz 😀

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