Monday, June 23, 2014

Death remembered

     My late husband died a year ago. He had leukemia--AML m6. He was hospitalized, diagnosed, and began chemo within three days in March, 2012. His was an emergency cancer, the kind that most people don't survive. And after a year and a half of treatment, he died. 
     My late husband's death was not unique. People die every second of every day. And yet, so many people are unacquainted with death and/or are afraid of it. I am not interested in perpetuating that fear. I have found that when people are open, when they are not isolated, when they are able to share an experience, they are less afraid. 
     And so, here, I will share with you some of what I remember from the week my late husband died. His death was confusing and sad, but also beautiful and healing.

     Dear Vic,
     Your dad remembers talking to you for the last time on Father's Day. 
   Your sister remembers Skyping with you that Monday. You told her, "I won't miss Skype." 
     Your mom and dad remember your email. "I may die this week. Come now."

      I remember that Tuesday morning.
     I woke up at 3AM to see you bouncing back and forth from the bed like one of those punching bag toys. I walked around to you. You started to stand, but your legs collapsed beneath you and we both fell to the floor. 
     You said, “Need go pee. Go bathroom.” 
     I said, “Baby. You’re on the floor. Do you want me to help you to the bathroom?” I was already hoisting you up. When I had you safely in bed I suddenly had to go to the bathroom myself. It felt like I had to take the most monumental piss of my life. I held it and asked you, “Baby, do you still need to go to the bathroom?” I looked around and grabbed one of your puke buckets thinking you could pee in it. 
     You slurred, “No. Headache.” 
     I retrieved Tylenol and oxy and gave them to you. I asked you again if you needed to pee. 
     I told you I’d be right back. I went to the bathroom and peed and peed. I checked my phone. 3:30AM. I thought about calling the hospital, but heard your voice loud and clear: “I want to die at home.” I cried. I came back to bed. 
     You slurred, “You go bathroom. You need pee,” and laughed. 
     I said, “Hell yeah I needed to pee.” 
     You laughed again and snuggled next to me. You were hot. We held hands. You made a joke, one that I can’t remember now, and went to sleep. 
     I remember being awake for what seemed like a long time. I kept replaying the image of your torso in silhouette bouncing up and back from the bed. I wondered where the light was coming from. I looked up and could see moonlight shining faintly through the window. It seemed to illuminate everything. I just lay there. Every few minutes you squeezed and re-gripped my hand. Eventually I fell asleep. 
     I woke up about ten minutes later knowing that you were about to throw up. Having lain next to you in bed for so many sick nights, I was attuned to your body—when you kicked at the covers you were too hot, when you opened and closed your mouth you needed water, when you moaned and fidgeted you needed help going to the bathroom, and when your body coiled you needed to throw up. 
     I grabbed the puke bucket. 
     You threw up your Tylenol and oxy. 
    After I cleaned puke from your chin, you made another joke, held my hand, and went back to sleep. 
     I remember the feel of my heart pounding. I fell asleep. 

     The next time I woke up, you were lying flat on your back. Your body was stiff and you were breathing through your mouth. Your arms and legs were long and rigid at your sides. Your fingers and toes were pointed like an expert diver’s just before he leaps and twists and lands gracefully in a pool of water below. 
     I called your name. 
     You did not respond. 
     I called it again. 
     You did not respond. 
     I rocked you gently, saying your name. 
     You did not respond. 
     I said, “You’re dying, baby.” 
     I looked at the phone. It was 5AM. 
     I remember calling your parents.
    I remember calling your sister. I remember holding the phone to your ear so your sister could talk to you. She told you she loved you.
     I remember calling your doctor. He answered the phone. I remember thinking, I can’t believe he answered the phone. This guy is the best doctor ever. 
      I remember calling my friend who drove over immediately.
     I remember our favorite nurse arrived a little later. She prepared to guide us through your death.
     I remember placing my hand on your heart and curling my body around your head. I remember saying, “You’re doing great, baby. You’re doing a great job.”
     I remember, through your chest, feeling your heart stop. You made a final exhaling, sighing sound, and you died. You died right there in our bed like you wanted.
     I remember your death every day. I try to share it with everyone who loved you and whom I love. I think we all hope to die so well.


  1. Dear Megan, Your post is full of grace and peace - a gift you share with us.

  2. Thank you for sharing this Megan.

  3. Oh God, Megan. That was so beautiful and personal. I'm sobbing. And while I never met Vic, I know you and my heart breaks for your loss.

  4. What Spring Does

    the one you lost
    has gone
    not Poughkeepsie
    or Timbuktu
    but into a mystery
    than time and space
    and you cannot
    how they are gone
    and yet remain
    how the fingers of the air
    slip between your fingers
    how the face of the air
    leans against your shoulder
    how the one you loved
    the one you love
    comes to you
    this way—
    in air
    that teaches you
    to breathe again
    breathe out
    the ache
    of how empty
    ashes feel
    breathe in
    the green
    of what spring does
    every year

  5. This was beautiful and poignant, Megan. Thanks for sharing it.

  6. Hi Megan. I don't know if we ever met. I was a classmate of Vic's in grad school. A mutual friend was googling old college friends, and when he put in Vic's name, the first auto-completion choice was "obituary". We found this page from there.

    I am so sorry.

    And sadly, all too familiar.

    My wife passed away about a month before him, May 30, 2013, from a rare form of kidney cancer that metastasized to her liver. It manifested and was misdiagnosed at the end of our honeymoon, and was finally diagnosed 8 months later, right before Christmas.

    That final night, she woke around 11:30PM, wanting to sit up, as she had been pretty restless the past couple of nights. I sat her up, and she slumped forward. I lay her back on the bed, and her voice, which had been little more than a whisper since her precipitous decline a few days earlier, rang out clearly: "I think I'm dying." It was the last words she ever spoke. I woke her mother, who had flown in the night before, and we held her hands and cradled her; two minutes later, she was gone.

    A week later, I started to jot down everything I could remember about the final few days in the plan that, someday, I'd share it with everyone. I never finished it. I think now I will.

    Thank you for this.

    - Jeff

    1. Hi Jeff,
      I am just now reading the replies to this post. Thank you so much for sharing your final moments with your wife. I think it's so important to remember it all. I hope writing it down is helping.
      Sending love and Best wishes in the New Year.

  7. (argh, I don't think I signed my name in the last post: Jeff Lampert)

  8. Dear Megan,

    Thank you for writing of Vic. I wasn't aware until today--when I saw a "R.I.P." beside Vic's name on his advisor Bart's site at UW.

    Would you reply here and let me know how Janet, Bill and Anna are?


  9. Dear Megan,

    This comes to you from Graham. Thank you so much for writing this. I only learned today of Vic's death. I saw "R.I.P." beside his name on a page associated with his advisor, Bart. But until I found your blog with this entry I was not aware of his illness.

    My fault for not having stayed in touch with you both.

    Could you reply here and let me know if Janet, Bill and Anna are well? My condolences, too, on your loss of your grandmother, V.

    Having known Victor and his good friend, Tater, remains and shall always be one of the great joys of my life.

    1. Graham,
      Wonderful to hear from you. I was looking for a soup recipe today in one of our Moosewood cookbooks and came across a postcard from you.
      When we stopped getting your US mail, Vic and I were concerned that something had happened to you. Glad you're all right. Hope you're still abroad and still in the book business.
      Vic's cancer was so fast, so aggressive. He didn't want anything published in the newspaper about his life or death, which is why so many people hadn't heard the news. Janet and Bill are as well as can be. Anna is too. I'll pass on your condolences. Vic loved living with you.
      I hope all is well and that you're still throwing dinner parties for all comers.
      Take care,