Today my mom sent me an article from a recent Washington Post issue. It asked, “Can we choose the moment we die?”. First thing that I want to say is, as a confirmed Death Nerd, I get a lot of people reaching out to seek advice and support and to share death and dying stories and videos, and I love it. I get to be at dinner parties in the kitchen with practical strangers and within 60 seconds, We. Go. Deep. (Oooh, new T-shirt idea, “Dearly Beloved Life-Go Deep or Go Home).
As I read the article (link below), I thought about the mysteries I’ve witnessed in regards to the timing of death of those with terminal illnesses. In the weeks leading up to death, or even months, a person may begin to go inward and seem withdrawn, as if they are calling back all of their energy from outside of themselves. Also, they may say things that sound odd at the time, but in hindsight, make perfect sense. During a visit to my Great Aunt Gennie’s, myself and others members of my family were talking about the holidays that were months away. Gennie, who was around 90 years old, but healthy, made a “harumph” sound and exclaimed, “who knows if we’ll even BE here by January”. I knew then that Gennie would not.
During this time, I had become the caretaker for my Great Uncle Frank, who had been married to our dear Great Aunt Mary for many years. She had died 7 years prior, and it was then that I inherited Uncle Frank. He was a character, which is a nice way to say pain in the ass, but he chose me and I was up for the challenge. He was years deep into the Hospital-Rehab-Home roller coaster that, until this point, he had been unwilling to step off of when he said to me at the hospital, “Lynn, I’m done. I miss Mary”. I knew him well enough to believe him and we were able to get him in a hospice facility where he lasted about 5 days before he reunited with Mary.
Being an End of Life Practitioner, I’ve witnessed personally and heard stories of dying people waiting for that special person to arrive in order to die, or waiting until their constant caretakers leave the room for a quick bite or shower, only to quietly slip away. In the case of the latter, it’s my belief that this “decision” is made as a way to protect the loved one from seeing them die.
I’ve also been at the bedside of those that hang on much longer than could be physically possible, just until their cherished loved ones arrive. A few years ago, I was with an elderly woman in her room at a nursing home. She was unable to speak, but by looking at her face I could see her panicked expression. She held my hand tightly as I did my best to soothe her with softly spoken words and music. Eventually her daughter rushed in, exclaiming, “Mama!”, as it was clear that her mom would die very shortly. I asked her if there was a song or prayer that would help to ease her mother’s journey. She told me that the 2 of them had a song, their song. It was Dion Warwick’s, “That’s What Friends Are For”. I pulled it up on my phone, and they shared their last minutes together, the daughter singing to her mother. It was then that she died.
I hadn’t thought about this for a long time until recently at a friend’s birthday celebration, when at the end of a lively yoga session, Dion Warwick’s song played. I found myself overcome with tears, remembering the beauty that I had witnessed in that nursing home and once again grateful for the lessons death teaches me about life.
Lynn Principe October 5, 2022