“I know you can’t give a specific timeframe, but”…
How I wish I had crystal ball that clued me in on events that have yet to happen….
The end of life is such a profoundly individual experience. Much like the labor of entering this life, exiting is full of unknowns, even for those who have planned. There is often no rhyme or reason as to how and when the heart ceases to beat. Countless are those that have tried in vain to grasp an understanding of our life’s terminal mystery. Some take great comfort in the unknown. Having resolved themselves to the powerlessness, they allow the worry to evaporate like a fog on a crisp spring morning. Falling on the other end of that spectrum are those that are seized by the fear of the utter lack of control. Feeling paralyzed by the enormity, they hold on, like a literal fight for the right to remain in this space.
While making a visit to a patient that was dancing between this world and the next, a family member was filled with heart breaking worry “Why can’t she just let go? It would be so much better for her. She is suffering… it would be so much better for her…”
Looking to me, as if I was privy to some universal secret, seeking answers and insight, my answers unfortunately don’t quench that thirst. The when? The how? The why?
What makes one linger on while another passes quickly? Do they feel as if there is someone they are holding on to see? Is there a resolution they are hoping to receive? It is not uncommon for one to defy all reason, for medical professionals to be baffled at how they are still holding on. A mom, who was one of those perplexing cases, had not eaten or drank for days, was holding on with all she had… once her son came to her bedside -he fell sobbing next to her unresponsive but yet still here body. He cried and thanked her for being such a wonderful mom. Within moments, her breathing changed and a peace fell over her face. She was finally able to drift off. She stayed on for as long as she did because even though she uttered no words, she needed to say goodbye.
My answers to many of those questions is that the final act of life is between the exiting soul and their God. There is no book to study that would give those answers. Sure, the textbooks can teach about how the body shuts down, but, as for how a spirit is released, that labyrinth continues to be unsolvable.
We can make them comfortable with medicines that take away pain. Loved ones can utter softly, giving reassurances that they will find their way and that it is ok to let go. It is almost as if sometimes permission needs to be given in order for passing on to occur.
Those final moments, when they come, are raw and beautiful. Full of sorry yet laced with an almost relief… there can be gut wrenching cries or an overwhelming sense of relief. Emotions know no bounds and I have found myself many times with a lump in my throat and tears flowing from my eyes. The feelings are all guttural and so intensely human.
Can it be explained? Not at all. The exact moment that a body chooses to release its life… no one can explain. Our arrival in this world is an enigma, so it is only fitting that the exit be just the same.
I choose to not wrack my brain with difficult explanations or questions that cannot be answered. There was a sweet little girl, who was playing dolls while the rest of her family was holding vigil at grandpa’s bedside. Giving them a few moments alone, I went over to this adorable little one and she told me that she knew why her pap hadn’t flown away yet. With the biggest blue eyes, she looked up at me.. “God is still making my pap’s angel wings. He can’t go to Heaven yet because Heaven isn’t ready for him.” Little one, thank you…