The never-ending box of tissue
Updated: Aug 27
A blog I wrote after witnessing a man take the Medical Aid in Dying (MAID) medications with his family gathered around him. I had spent days with him choregraphing his death, and then time with his family as well, learning what they needed too. All of their wishes were honored on this difficult, and yet beautiful day.
I have been here before. The room looks different, and the faces have changed but the sounds of tears that echo in my head prepare me for what I am about to see…what I have seen before, so many times.
A playlist was created days ago, and his favorite music wafted through the house…the volume rising and lowering at just the right moments as though the poignant moments of his death had been choreographed.
His hands and fingers were turning blue, and yet the way his wife intertwined hers around them, it was as though she was being taken back to a time when they were young lovers holding hands, perhaps on a first or second date. So much love there.
His toes were also turning blue; she covered them with a blanket and whispered, “he must be cold”. No one said a thing, we just watched as she slowly tucked the blanket around him. It was a lovely gesture, and yet heartbreaking too.
When I stepped outside the room to offer them privacy, I could hear sobbing, and chairs creaking as they each reached for the never-ending box of tissue, wiping away their tears… to no avail.
Someone thanked me for being there, and then she said, “everything hurts”. I responded with, “saying goodbye to someone you love can be painful physically, emotionally, and spiritually. This pain will run deep, be gentle with yourself.” She asked me if I knew this feeling too, I said “yes,” remembering my own losses and the pain I know will reside within me forever.
I looked around, and I watched the people who love him say goodbye, and while they knew this day was coming, and they were prepared, it was as though this news was being heard for the very first time and deep sorrow filled the room.
His breaths started to slow, and they knew. They took turns touching him, resting their hands over his, kissing his cold cheeks, and gently caressing his hair as if to have one last moment with him, letting him know he was not doing this alone. Each was there for him, loving him, preparing to miss him, knowing this would be their very last goodbye.
When his last and final breath was taken, the sobs were gentler, but their hands kept reaching for the never-ending box of tissue, that kept its unsaid promise to be there for them. As if to silently say, "I've got you".
I left the room, allowing them privacy as they said their last goodbye. The volume of the music became louder, and I felt the wind blow through the open window and against the vase of days old Lillie’s…. A tear rolled down my cheek as I watched a petal slowly fall to the floor.
It is in those moments when I know not to stay, this is their private experience and while I walked alongside each of them, I also knew (and know) when it is time for me to walk away. I sat down on the couch, I took long deep breaths, and I whispered my own private goodbye to him. And I waited until they each walked out of the room, one at a time.
I went back into the room, I soaked washcloths in warm water, and I silently bathed him, as none of the family wished to participate. I dressed him, I tucked the covers around him, and I placed one of the remaining lilies in his hands.
When it was time for me to go, I hugged them each goodbye. “Take care of one another”, I said. And I walked out the door.
Each step to my car seemed to take forever. My eyes hurt. I realized I hadn’t eaten anything in hours. I stood at my car, I felt the wind brush against my face, and I took it all in, thankful to have been invited into something so private and so intimate.
You can learn more about Medical Aid in Dying in my new book, "Dignity Day," which can be found on Amazon: https://a.co/d/2Qu30yD