Until 2009 I had never experienced death. Well, yes I had lost people I loved before. Beginning when a good friend was electrocuted at the age of 19. I lost my grandparents in the eighties and nineties. All very painful. In 2001 I lost my mother unexpectedly to a heart attack. Losing her was the most devastating moment of my life so far. But I wasn't there. I didn't experience her death. She died alone in her room.
Between November 2008 and March 2009 my dad had three abdominal surgeries to repair his intestines. They took a lot out of him. This once six foot three, 200 pound man had wasted to 130 pounds. By May he was on the mend. He had energy and was gaining a little weight back. I was running his construction firm for him and saw him almost daily. He had full time caregivers and he was getting better. On the fourth of July he joined my family and friends on our boats for the firework show over our lake. I remember him telling me to keep working the boat farther and farther through the hundreds of boats squeezed together until we got to the edge of the safety zone. The fireworks exploded right on top of us and I remember him saying that was the best display he had ever watched. I had to agree. That was the last day he left his house. He began to decline after that. Two weeks later I received a call from Deanna, who had gone to my dad's house to give his care givers a break, she said I needed to come over. I arrived a while later to find him in some discomfort. He didn't want to go to the ER and just wanted to rest. I wanted to call an ambulance but he refused. After a few minutes he sat up and said his jaw was numb. I called emergency services immediately. I then sent Dee out to wait for the paramedics as I stayed with dad. He was sitting on the edge of his bed with me holding his shoulders. He then said he felt numb all over and laid down. I stayed at his side and looked him in the eyes. They rolled up and then came back to me as he tried to speak but he just mumbled. "Don't leave me dad!" I said selfishly regretting it immediately. He had a look of terror on his face. I watched his eyes roll back again and return to mine once more. "It's okay dad you can go." I said lovingly. His terror filled look melted away as I think he realized he was dying. His eyes rolled back and never opened again. The doctor in me took over and I placed my fingers on his neck and felt his pulse fade. I then started CPR, regrettably. I continued this until the paramedics took over. I stepped back and watched them work as I cried with Deanna. I then heard him say to me "Don't forget to turn out the lights before you leave!" I knew he was gone right then. He made it to the ER where I put a stop to this waste of time. I held his hand as the physician pronounced him dead.
My experience with death is only a third over though. In early April 2012 at 6 a.m. I pulled my work truck up to the gate of my construction yard to pick up my employee Larry. He wasn't there. Larry was the most prompt employee I had ever had. You could set your clock by him. If I was a minute late he would be at the gate pointing at his watch and shaking his head. I grabbed my phone and called another employee who sometimes drove him to the job (Larry didn't have a cell phone), thinking I had been confused on who was supposed to pick him up. He wasn't with him so I drove around the corner to Larry's house. When I pulled up to his house I saw him lying face down in the flowers outside his gate. I slammed my truck in park and ran to him yelling his name. He was conscious but very pale and he couldn't speak. Larry was in his mid-fifties and had led a hard life. He was an alcoholic but had been sober for three years. I let him know I was there and he shook his head. I tried my cell and couldn't get service so I opened up my passenger door and pushed the On Star button. Immediately the operator picked up and I told her my friend may have had a stroke or heart attack. She said help was on the way and began to ask more questions. Larry must have heard me say that because with everything he had he managed to turn himself over onto his back with only his arms. I looked over and saw blood on his belly. "FUCK!" I yelled. "He's been shot!" I screamed into the receiver and ran to him. The On Star operator kept asking if I was still there but I ignored her. My friend needed me and she knew our location. I looked him in the eyes and he recognized me. I looked at his normally flat stomach now distended, filled with blood. I looked at the bright red blood oozing from his wound and instantly knew he was going to die. I could hear the sirens by now and looked back into his eyes. "The paramedics are on the way, you're going to be okay!" knowing better but trying to keep his hopes up. Then he looked at me and shook his head mouthing the word "No!" and weekly grinned. I stared into his eyes and he lost consciousness. With the knowledge that his last moments were not spent alone. He died a few hours later.
The final third of this story is my own. It's very different in that I know I'm going to die. The other two were surprising, even my dad’s death. My death has been on a steady path for the last two years. The other day, Deanna and I made the final decision to not have a tracheostomy performed and attach a ventilator to my throat. I will let my non-invasive ventilator carry me as far as it can. We have also made the decision to enter the hospice phase of my life. This will all occur in my home and hopefully I will pass away there. For those of you who may not be familiar with hospice I will explain. Basically my care will shift from prevention to comfort and support for me and my family. I've actually been in an unofficial hospice since my illness can't be treated anyway. There just won't be any treatment to slow my illnesses progression. I will continue down this path and my diaphragm will fail and the ventilator will be unable to keep up with my needs and I will become sleepy, fall into a brief coma and then pass away.
I have been honored to be with my father and Larry in there last waking moments. To share in there realization that they were about to slip there earthly bonds and go onto their next adventure. I know I won't be alone when I die and I won't fear deaths embrace. For I have already shared this moment with others. What a gift and a relief that is. I am at peace, though I may not always realize it. When my time comes, I will welcome death as a friend and ask it to sit and wait as my loved ones gather to say their goodbyes. Then I will take my first step on the ultimate adventure.
Don't forget to turn out the lights before you leave!