-those internal smiles that everyone says are gas
-the constant hiccups
-the moro reflex that made them look like they were cheering, but were actually causing them to feel like they were falling
and a whole host of others.
As it turns out, when people die, there are similar physical traits.
Obviously, on an emotional level, the tone is altogether different. There's no excitement when my uncle hiccups, or twitches in his Hospice bed, and it's the nurse that changes his diapers, not us.
I've spent most of my week sitting with family members at Uncle G's side “keeping a vigil.” Things are different than they were when I last posted about him. He's no longer able to talk or swallow, and while yesterday he wasn't able to talk to me, he could respond with his eyes at times. Today, he seems much more disconnected.. The nurse says he can still hear us; most studies say hearing is one of the last things to go.
So, with that in mind, I pulled out my ukelele. I played one of the two songs I know in entirety: “Tonight, You Belong To Me” from The Jerk, and I'll admit that some of the lyrics were a little difficult to choke out:
“I know with the dawn that you will be gone, but tonight, you belong to me.”
A song about a one night stand suddenly had a very different meaning.
“He likes that, see his eyes?” My mom was standing over him.
That news started the ball rolling. Three of his friends who were visiting printed out the lyrics for Joe Hill and his eyes got big and wide when they sang to him. We finished with all of us singing the M.T.A. Song, me accompanying on the uke. My mom says she saw him trying to sing. I've spent a lot of time in the last 24 hours reading the Hospice materials on what to expect regarding dying from a physical perspective. The idea is that family members won't feel like every large gasp or lapse in breathing means “the end.” However, I'm not sure it's made me feel more confident about the experience.
To be fair, as far as I can tell, there is no way to be confident about death, unless perhaps, the dead is someone who wronged others greatly. Even then I'm not so sure. I recall the death of Osama Bin Laden when people were cheering in the streets while the rest of us furrowed our brows and thought “That can't be the right thing to do, can it?”
My husband watched his own mother die only a few years ago. He relayed the same points to me from a graphic and medical perspective. My own pulse increased as he described that the sharp decline in blood pressure combined with extremely shallow and labored apnea breathing meant the end was near. I've never been this close to a dying person, neither in kin nor physical presence.
While I was very much entwined in the death of my mother-in-law, I was shielded from these last brutal days of her life, mostly because I was caring for an 18 month-old Shnook. I can't say it's a pleasant experience, and really, watching someone die is pretty low on my life to-do list. However, there's something to be said for being present in this, to watch the physical signs, to have access to him, at his home, without the beeps, buzzes and grime of a hospital. It also feels crucial to huddle with family here in his presence, my mom being paramount.
Uncle G just started the apnea breathing while I was writing this. The nurse says he has anywhere from a few hours to a day or two left.