WOW | Life Inspiration
In the summer of 2013 my grandfather was preparing to die. At age 91, the imminence of his passing came as no surprise. He had lived a long and full life. As a medical doctor, a husband, a widower, a husband again, a father to six children, grandfather to nine and great-grandfather to seven, he had left his mark in this world. And a good mark at that. Not perfect, certainly; but without doubt, significant. The fact that he had such a long and a full life made his death easier to accept.
Even so, death is a strange friend.
Death creates tremors. It shakes us to our core – within our own hearts, within the ties we hold with others, and the ties we have to places and things.
Death is unsettling. That’s the hard part. And that’s the good part. With death, nothing stays the same. As uncomfortable and painful as it may be, death opens the door of opportunity – to change, to uncover, to feel, and to be raw to a point that we never could have imagined. To the point of deep pain and potentially great freedom.
A few months before my Grampy passed away, he offered me a glimpse of what was to come. He had been one of the main teachers in my life; and he remained as such as he approached death.
In the summer of 2013 I was with my mother when she received a call from her father’s nursing home that he had become unresponsive. He barely had a pulse and his breathing was erratic. The 45-minute drive from where we were to his bedside seemed to last forever. Everything seemed to be happening in slow motion.
Entering the nursing home, we didn’t know what we would find. Was he already gone? Had he been resuscitated?
When we entered his room, we found Grampy lying in his bed, propped up. He was pale and still. Too still. His hands were clasped gently over his heart. His breathing was sporadic and laboured. My immediate impulse was to touch him. My hands over his, I called his name softly. And I prayed.
God understands the language where there are no words. Right?
Everything about my grandfather told me that he was in-between. He was not fully present. Nor was he fully gone. He was see-sawing between worlds. And as he did so, I watched. His face would relax and almost coming alight in some moments. At others it was taken by a grimace as he sucked air in again. The dance of in-between.
My mother decided to go gather what she would need to spend the night by his side. It was decided that while she was gone I would keep vigil. Nurses were nearby. But I was to stay with him so that if he did pass, he would not be alone.
I remember thinking: “Wait… I don’t know how to do this! What if he dies with me here…alone?”
And then the voice inside said: “Be with him. Just be here. With him.”
In the quiet and silence of the room, Grampy and I continued to hold hands. At first I was leaning over his bedside, anticipating any move, any sign that would tell me he had left his body. How would I know for sure? What does death look like? How does it happen? It is not like in the movies…this much I had begun to gather. Because death is a process. Just like birth is. For some it is slow and drawn out. For others, expedient.
Making myself comfortable, I continued to watch him. His cheeks were drawn, his eyes closed, and his skin paper thin. He looked so different from the strong, deep voiced and commanding presence I had known as a child; the doctor who had so many times, so patiently, calmed me in bouts of asthma attacks and frightening illness.
And yet, even now, in this moment- I as his attendee and he as the patient – his same gentleness, and dignity shone through. There were no power struggles, no questions and no unease. We were simply together.
And then, out of nowhere Grampy started to rustle. His eyes opened wide and he was suddenly very alert. As though he had awoken from a long, deep sleep, he decided to get up and head to the bathroom. He must have noticed the absolute shock on my face, because, in his typical wise aleck way, he laughed and told me: “I’m not going to die on your watch. The others would hoot and holler if I did. I don’t want to get you into trouble.”
After climbing back into bed, he requested a chocolate milk shake. The nurses, just as surprised and speechless as I was, watched him drink it with gusto. He smacked his lips and “ooo”ed and “ahhh”ed at how tasty it was. After dessert he wanted supper.
Remember: Dessert first.
The feast seemed to tire him, and he went back to rest. He asked for music. A little Miles Davis would do. As quickly as he had awoken he slipped back into sleep. This time more here. This time no longer in between. He had come back for the time being; taking in a few more moments of delight and of love in this world and in his body before he had to go.
May you cherish your chocolate milkshake moments – and every moment in between – today and always.
LISA GAUTSCHI (Yogatara) is a Yoga Therapist and Spiritual Psychologist, and the Director of Isha Institute, Jhamsikhel – a centre for holistic learning and conscious living.