I believe you know about Ken by now, and about his battle with cancer. The single most spiritual moment in my life came when he passed away in my arms.
When it became apparent that I could no longer manage Ken’s care in our home, our hospice nurse recommended he be moved to the San Diego Hospice Hospital. I refused, saying we had never spent a single night apart in our nearly twenty years of marriage, and I wasn’t going to let it happen now. She told me I could be with him, that there were accommodations for family in each patient’s room. I accepted immediately, and he was transferred the next day. I sat beside his gurney in the ambulance on that last ride.
While Ken was bathed and checked in, I explored the grounds of this beautiful place. If there was ever to be a perfect setting for end of life, this had to be it. Situated on a hill overlooking the city with a view that went on for miles, colorful gardens to wander, and sheltered places to sit and enjoy the view, it was lovely and peaceful.
At first Ken was his usual upbeat self, talking with staff, and joking with friends and family who dropped by. As the days passed, he began to hallucinate about being back in the military. As a retired Air Force Colonel, he was accustomed to the secrecy often necessary among his peers, and he began to insist on seeing the general, whom he was sure had summoned him. It became quite a task getting back to reality, but he was never violent or angry, just insistent.
The day before he died, he was in a state of complete confusion. I sat down in a chair very close to him, took his hands in mine, and said, “Ken, do you know who I am?” With a look that was worth a thousand words, he said, “You’re my Jeri, and I love you.” I put my head on his lap and gave in to the tears, while he patted me on the back in an attempt to comfort me.
Shortly after he fell into a deep sleep, from which he would never awaken. Early the next morning when the rounds nurse came in to check his vitals, I asked what they were. His blood pressure was about 60 over 40. I asked her to move him so I could get in bed with him. I lay there for several hours, holding him and listening to his weakening breathing. Finally, I told him that I would be OK, and asked him to let go. To this day I believe that he heard me, even in his comatose state. His last breath came out in a soft whoosh, like a balloon deflating.
I’m now approaching the beginning of my 80th year, and know that death will come before too many years pass. I hope it’s not soon, as I have many stories to tell before I go. I can also tell you that I do not fear death, but look at it as a logical progression of life. I only hope someone who loves me will be there to hold me when the time comes.