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A Good Death

What constitutes a good death, I wondered. Why is it I’ve always considered my father’s death, a “good death?”

My father’s human life came to an end on a cold January night. Two weeks earlier he had used his walker to enter the doctor’s office, only to return in a wheelchair. He shared with the doc that he felt his heart couldn’t take anything more. He had spent the prior three months receiving chemo and radiation treatments and had just been told by his oncologist they couldn’t find any more cancer. His heart wasn’t in perfect shape going into the treatments and our hearts don’t take well to chemo, especially during esophageal cancer.

The following day a hospital bed arrived to be placed center stage in the living room where he could look out over the Georgia Straits to the San Juan Islands and lights of Victoria. Seeing oil tankers and tugboats awaiting to pull up to the refinery dock had always been part of the view, yet now they became part of the vigil. A lighted ship at sea on a long dark night offered a sense of rhythm to our 24/7 watch.

We four adult daughters, and spouses that could, took nightly shifts. Friends, distant relatives, and grandchildren all called or came by to say goodbyes. It was amazing to witness the love being poured forth. Both from those coming and calling but also from the little energy dad had left, he’d assure each person he loved them “big as the sky.”

Hospice, the local death support group, guided us along with empathy and a deep breadth of experience. We were also present enough within ourselves to ask dad what he wanted, needed, or when he could no longer speak – to simply feel his hand squeezing ours.

It is the presence of love that makes a good death. Whether it is love from those who had always shared life with him or from the new members of our goodbye-team, hospice personal. The ones who circled the wagons of his souls-letting-go played or sang his favorite songs. We laughed and cried and told life stories; held him and one another, while ever more love flowed. It was during a favorite song – Unforgettable ­ he took his final breath and let go.

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