Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Life and Death


I am participating in the
 Slice of Life.  
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, 
on Tuesdays.
                                                        Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!

My Dad died one week ago, today, a beautiful and peaceful death.

I feel as if I have shared so much about him over the past several years, in this Slice of Life space. It seems only right to share his passing with you.

I'm struggling with where to begin.

In mid-August, we received word from hospice that Dad was in end stages of his life. Tony and I quickly threw some things together and drove up to Maine, hoping that I might be able to see him. Everything fell beautifully into place - we received rapid response COVID tests, and I was allowed into Dad's room at the nursing home, wearing a mask and a face shield, the day after I arrived in Maine. Although my Dad was by and large unresponsive, seemingly asleep and distant, I suspect he was quite aware that my brother Mark and I were visiting him each morning and afternoon (separate visits, due to COVID...only one of us allowed in the room). So began a 19-day end-of-life vigil - our spouses Tony and Sue supporting us at home, Mark and I visiting Dad every day, morning and afternoon, sitting at his bedside, talking to him, playing his favorite music, soothing him, cherishing him. The last two days of Dad's life, his death was so imminent, Mark and I never left his side, even through the night. In reflection, our daily presence may have slowed the rapidity of Dad's decline, but not the decline itself - there were never any reversals, no real "rallies" in his health; every visit throughout those two and a half weeks felt like it might well be the very last.

What an extraordinary gift to have had this time to be present with my Dad in this way. I think about how sad I was this past spring to be retired from teaching, and, yet, because I am retired, I was able to take this time and be with my Dad. What a blessing!

I, with my writer's hat on, took so many notes, savoring every moment as if it were the end - because I knew well it might be. I took pages and pages of notes, as I sat with Dad. Let me just share a few of moments with you:


I squeezed his hand and he squeezed back, held on. I realized I was in a very awkward, bent over position that I could not maintain, so I let go, repositioned my chair so that I might look right at him, be right by his side more comfortably. I put my hand in his, again. We held hands like this for a few moments and then he loosened his grip and said, "okay, good night." Then he settles and a very sweet thing repeats - he reaches towards me, I squeeze his hand, and he repeatedly squeezes back. This happens three-four times in a row. He goes back to sleep, moves his hand back to his stomach. Then, after a pause, reaches back for me. We repeat, squeezing one another's hand. Very dear.

He calls out, "Alice! Alice!,” almost hallucinations, "Alice, come have ice cream!," "Does anyone have some roses? Can Alice and I pick some roses?” He is imagining Mom, he is missing her so much; it feels as if I am intruding on their intimate space. I have long thought it so sad that she preceded him in death, he has missed her so much these past two years - and this loss showed in his health decline, I think. Yet, imagine, if she were still alive, how impossible it would have been for Mom to soothe him here at his end of life, to comfort him; she with dementia...what would that have been like? Oh, that would have been so very sad - this is better, Mark and I, able to comfort. It is what it is.

So many breaths that seem like his last. It is a symphony, a musical score. Who knew breath could vary like this? Yet, he seems so distant, as if he is not in this room anymore. His breathing seems mechanical, automatic, the winding down of an incredible toy...there is only the slightest movement to his open mouth, both eyes shut, body entirely still. This one refrain of his breathing is like that of a small child, as he cries himself to sleep - huh, huh, huh....[no sound]...huh, huh...[no sound].... Yet, these are not Dad's last breaths, because he continues this way for more than an hour, then resumes normal breathing.

In this chair, trapped, stuck, with a pillow wedged behind my back, that I reposition over and over...I am back in the station wagon, on a long family drive, Dad at the wheel, brothers alongside, trying to sleep, trying to get comfortable, squished in with my family. The rattle tells me his lungs are filling. His breaths are so compressed now, squishing, squeezing out of him, followed by such very quiet moments, followed again by the suck of air, as he tries to fill those lungs with life, working, working, working. Listening to him, we are children at the beach, racing into the waves on rubber rafts, jumping onto the floats, slip-sliding into the ocean. Those squeaks, sputters, and burps are the sound of bare skin on the rafts, as the rafts wedge between our bottoms and the sand...hear our groans of delight as we labor against the tide and the waves. Remember how, sometimes, the raft propelled in to the air and water, leaving us rolling in the wet sand, splashing in the water, laughing at the surprise of it all? These sounds you make are so similar. Go play, Daddy, go play. Your work is done.

Dad is so calm, quietly slipping away, eking out every single moment of this life, slow, patient, effortless, calm. This departure of his is full circle different from how he lived his life. This departure, so patient, so beautiful, really...tender and slow. He was a man of such motion and force, determination, conviction, goals, and follow-through. Here, he is so 'present.' It is just fine. Good to have him tarry. He never did before. Thanks for lingering with me, Daddy.

There's so much more I could say. 

Rest in peace, Dad. I love you. 


  1. Oh, Maureen! I’m sorry to hear about the passing of your father.

    The moments you preserved, about your last days together, are beautiful. I’m glad you have trusted us with these intimate and tender glimpses into your final days together. I could feel him squeeze your hand back and was so thankful that you were able to be with him.

    May your father’s memory always be for a blessing.

  2. You'll reread your writing later, and I bet you'll be so happy that you recorded the details of some of the moments. You don't ever have to look back and think I wish I'd been there more or I should have done something differently. Retirement was perfectly timed for another milestone of life. Peace be with all of you.

  3. Dear Maureen, you have been in my thoughts daily these past weeks. You have given your father a beautiful gift with your presence in his final days. I know your being there made this transition more bearable for you both. Sending peace and light to you. Thank you for sharing your father with us. You’re memories and stories have given me reason and time to reflect on my own father. I’m very grateful for that. I know life must be so hard right now, so hug that granddaughter close and tell her stories about her great grandpa.

  4. Oh Maureen.....so many tears reading this beautiful writing about your dad. That second to last paragraph- oh how it just got me. This is exactly, exactly why I teach children to write- because one day I want them to be able to document the moments that matter. Not to pass any state test or Regents or for a grade but because writing about these exquisitely precious moments is just vital. I didn't know your dad, but now I fee like I do a bit. And I feel the loss of a person so special. The squeezing of the hands made me remember a moment with my grandfather in the hospital over 20 years ago- your writing brought that back to me today. I am sending you hugs and prayers for peace- but reading your writing, I feel a sense of peace. You helped your dad as he made his journey to what is next and it was an honor to read about it.

  5. I am so sorry for your loss, and glad that you were able to be there with him. The way you've crafted this post is just beautiful. I hope it will be a gift to your future self, someday, looking back on this memory years from now.

  6. What a beautiful tribute, Maureen. May his memory be a blessing.

    Your words here provide affirmation and comfort to others who also grieve - whether the loss is new and big, or more further away in time. You capture the love and the pain so well.

    And this passage - "Then he settles and a very sweet thing repeats - he reaches towards me, I squeeze his hand, and he repeatedly squeezes back." So much love and compassion exchanged without a single word.


    Sending love.

  7. Dear Maureen, I’m so sorry to hear of the loss of your wonderful father. Your final days with him reminded me so much of my mom’s passing while in hospice care. What a treasure you will have with those notes and bits of writing you did to commemorate those final hours- I wish I’d thought to do that myself. This post is so lovely. Please know our whole team at TWT is thinking of you and your family during this time. -Lanny

  8. Your loss is so heavy yet lightened by the beautiful memories you've shared. This is a lovely piece of writing. One I hope you cherish for yourself.

  9. The love and the loss of having the gift of time with your father is written so beautifully. "What an extraordinary gift to have had this time to be present..." are words of wisdom for each of us. Your words remind me how precious it is to live and hold dear those we love. And it was an honor to have had the opportunity to read such an important and beautifully written moment. - Marina

  10. Maureen, this is such a beautiful tribute to your father--evidence of your writer self throughout. You capture the kinds of details that help us as readers to know him a little (and to know you better, too). The places where a detail during these days transports you to a treasured memory of your shared past are so vivid and warm. Thank you for sharing them with us.