I get it, universe. Really. My person is gone.
I know “life goes on,” and I must continue on to accomplish the daily tasks I have come to know as “structure.” And to those who like to remind me that life goes on…I GET IT. And my response to you is: reminders aren’t helpful. Motivation is, but motivation goes out the window when you’re grieving. So does structure in the beginning, but that’s a blog post for another day.
When Mark first left me, I was completely distraught from watching him die. It wasn’t the peaceful, quiet situation we had envisioned after becoming hospice patients. In fact, it was the complete opposite. I’ve mentioned a few times to my family that I might also be experiencing feelings of trauma in addition to my grief, but I’m not a therapist. It’s not like we’re always present to witness deaths of our loved ones, so there’s bound to be confusion.
It took me some time to realize that I was trying to control an outcome I was powerless to control: Mark’s death.
But it was my first experience watching someone I loved so very deeply die. I mean, have you watched someone die? Do you know the internal terror and guilt it causes when it’s not peaceful, or when you can’t stop pain? If not, I’m glad. Feeling powerless in a situation you can’t control will drive anyone bonkers, but when you add in a 104 fever, seizures and the dreaded “death rattle,” you’re bound to have some serious emotional baggage.
I have too often wondered if I “did enough” for Mark during his last couple days. I applied the cold compresses, gave comfort medications and said no to sleep so I could hear every sound he made, determined not to miss his passing. When we got this shitty news, I promised I would be there until the very end, and I absolutely meant it.
I climbed into the hospital bed with him on his last night on Earth and carefully listened to his heart beat. I read to him and talked about our first date. I reflected on our first tiff — which was on our second date. I spoke of the first time he professed his love to me, and the night he proposed. That night was hilarious: he took me to view Christmas lights, and naturally decided to pop the question in front of the darkest house on the street.
I recall quietly weeping around 3 a.m. as I wiped his very hot skin with cool-watered cloths. I listened to his fast breathing and tried to soothe him, like I would have if I was soothing an infant. I played music he liked and thought quietly about our first dance as husband and wife, less than two years ago.
I thought of all the trips we would not take together now. I did my best to wipe the tears and ignore his hiccups and the repeated jerking motions he made while I tried to stimulate a suck of water through water sponges. I did way too many vitals checks which accomplished absolutely nothing other than make me totally bananas. I covered and uncovered his body. I wiped his forehead. I Googled “How to make a dying person comfortable.”
Finally, around 4:30 a.m., when he started breathing very deeply, I noticed dark brown urine in his bag, It was then I stopped trying to help. At that moment, I realized the measures I was taking weren’t doing anything other than keeping me focused on time left, rather than acknowledging and accepting my husband was dying.
I called the Hospice nurse to talk to her about his 103 temperature, knowing I couldn’t stop what was coming. It took me some time to realize I was trying to control an outcome I was powerless to control: Mark’s death. After that, I found myself administering Morphine, Haldol gel and Ativan, which would quickly limit the rest of his life. In that moment, I felt horrible, as I was the one that had to give the life-ending medicines to the man who captured and loved my heart so beautifully.
If Mark knew his time was short, he never told me. He left me blissfully unaware.
When our nurse confirmed Mark was dying, I didn’t want to believe her. I acknowledged it, and knew she’d seen a lot of death in her day, but I also knew Mark was a fighter. Denial is an ugly thing. When his heart rate finally reached 175 BPM, (above exercise rates) and a “Nut-uh” followed every exhale, I realized he was somewhere else, talking to someone else, and I knew he was nearly done fighting.
It was around that time Chaplain Chris from Hospice arrived to talk to me. We said the Lord’s Prayer, spoke of the sudden turn of events, and he quickly arranged for Father Tom to come give Mark his last rights. His last rights. He was 44.
While Mark never actively practiced religion, I recently found a necklace with a gold cross that I had never seen him wear. I also noted it in his senior pictures, and have been wearing it non-stop since his death. That said, he never attended church and did not live an overly religious life. But he expressed interest in returning to church in his last couple months, so we were relieved we could have some religion-based services provided to us at home through the hospice agency. If Mark knew his time was short, he never told me. He left me blissfully unaware. While I knew he probably wasn’t going to be around in his 50s, I didn’t expect him to leave us so soon.
I remember my mind filled with hope of a divine miracle, but that was not to be the case. His miracle was reserved for another soul.Laurie Moon-Schmorrow
After Father Tom anointed Mark, there was a fast change in his status. He had been doing this weird hiccup thing that caused his body to jerk, but otherwise he looked unbothered by it. That stopped almost immediately after anointment, and Mark widely opened his eyes, looking quickly at all of us but not having a clue where he was. I thought he was awake and maybe the anointment helped. I remember my mind filled with hope of a divine miracle.
But this was not to be the case. His miracle was reserved for another soul. Shortly after he opened his eyes, his head began to writhe back and forth uncontrollably, and he began to groan deeply, looking at us (or so we thought) with glassed-over, wide-open, blue eyes. He looked possessed, if I’m totally honest. I was horrified, and that’s when that awful death rattle sound began, and my hopes quickly turned to dread.
I knew what that sound meant, and so did Hershey. He found his way onto the couch and immediately lunged towards Mark, licking and smelling his face, trying to get onto the bed. My daughter helped him on and he laid there on Mark’s lap until he passed. Alex and Josh were off to Mark’s right holding his hand, and I was on his left, wetting his forehead. Poor Kassidy was making all kinds of phone calls, the poor kid. She is his niece by marriage, but he loved her as blood. He loved them all as his.
Mark turned his head toward me a few moments later with half-opened, glassed-over eyes…and I told him to go.
The priest stepped back as we sprung into action, mouthing to me “It won’t be long now.” Kassidy contacted the hospice agency as I thought Mark was having seizures. They provided me with medicinal advice and I was able to administer two medications, after which Mark suddenly said, “Nuh-Uh” and turned his face away from me. I don’t know who he was talking to, whether me or someone else, (somewhere else) but it was clear as day. I looked at the priest, and he returned my glance, slowly shaking his head “no” to me.
I told Mark “Okay honey…I hear you,” and I said I wouldn’t give him anymore meds, but he should not suffer like this. Mark turned his head back to me a few moments later with half-opened, glassed-over eyes, and I told him to go. I told him I knew he doesn’t want to leave us, but we’ll be okay and he doesn’t have to fight anymore. We continued to express our love for him and I told him if he was waiting for the boys (his nephews) to visit, and he was in too much pain to wait, that he could go, and I would look after them.
Just after I told him this, his face and body began to relax. His eyes closed slightly and I leaned over and kissed his lips one last time while I knew there was still life in them. “I’ll love you forever,” I said. It was only a moment or so later his breathing slowed, and I noticed his chest fill high with air. He held it there for a moment and then he was gone.
I have been hesitant to share these pictures because some may find them offensive, but I don’t care. This is our reality every day. We were there for the tough parts, and the photos of Mark taken before and after his death are equally as important to us.
We lived and witnessed his struggles in life and were there when he moved from this life to whatever came next. These memoirs were our reality and are reflective of life’s most mysterious transition. I like to think he’s running around on both of his too-skinny legs with Pablo at his heels in Heaven, surrounded by never-ending buckets of ice cream and an always-stocked bar with Rum and Coke.
In this life, he was my husband, my best friend, a terrific father to my children and a wonderful person worthy of the deep love that he gave to everyone else. I will always be grateful for the time we had with him and for the love we shared. Even in death, this is what love looks like.