When the last petal falls.
I had the honor of sitting with a woman who asked me to be with her in the last few hours of her life. She was the mother of a very dear friend of mine, who we lost about twenty years ago. I hadn’t seen her in several years, but we emailed a few times a year, and we always exchanged birthday and holiday cards. We had a phone conversation every few months that usually lasted an hour or two. I kept her up to date on my life as a hospice nurse and an end-of-life doula, which she was very interested in hearing about, and always very encouraging and supportive.
She had many questions about the work I do and was interested in the dying process and what it might feel like to die. In a million years I would have never known those questions were being asked because of her own personal decline, that she kept secret from me and everyone she loves. It was not because she was stoic and strong, it was because she wanted to live her life fully without the worry that others were tiptoeing around her.
I remember one conversation very well, and it was before I knew she was given a terminal diagnosis. We were talking about those last few days someone has just before they die, and what that must feel like and what they might think about. She and I both agreed there was deep thought, even when there were no more words. She very eloquently compared the dying process to a flower whose petals dropped slowly to the ground when it was dying. Our conversation was colorful and lovely and imaginative and beautiful, and I will carry it with me for the rest of my life.
A flower, when in its fullest bloom, stands so strong and confident, sometimes even in the fiercest windstorm. And then, as it nears the end of its life, the petals start to fall… sometimes two or three at a time, sometimes only one at a time, and when that last petal falls, it has reached its end.
About a week before she died, I received a text message from her, it simply said, “my last petal will fall soon, can you come stay with me”. She kept the secret of her illness from everyone, yet I knew exactly what she was saying, and I went immediately to her bedside, no questions asked.
She sent me the text message after several of her petals had already fallen, she only had a few left and she chose me to be with her at her bedside. I walked in the door, and her forever friend Anna greeted me with tears in her eyes. She said, “she’s going to die soon Gabby." I responded, “I know,” and we both walked in silence to her room. She looked up at me and smiled, she raised her hand for me to take, and in a very soft whisper she said, “My last petal is about to fall, sit with me”. I held her hand until she took her last breath.
Life is unpredictable, and we just never know when either ourselves, or someone we love is suddenly given the notice that the garden they have been tending for so many years is about to go bare. The honor was all mine to be called to sit at her bedside in those last hours, and while a part of me wished she had shared this with me earlier so that I could do more for her, I realize that my place was at her bedside when the last petal fell and that is good enough for me.
This is a blog I wrote for The Conscious Dying Institute a few years ago... It was one of my favorites so I wanted to share it here.
This photo is compliments of Andrew Mcintosh Art - https://andrewmcintoshart.com/?fbclid=IwAR1eTKzRj_Z9CymMYJwTTi2GcWHgTVScy9zHFpGAAAmdZjNHgPlmqVE1U38