Liminal Space

The Monday morning sun has come up. Just beyond the cornfield several north and southbound trains have gone by. Dad prefers being turned so he can see out the window. Suz and I took the late shift and The Papa was awake for much of the night. 

The big agitation has lessened. He doesn’t answer questions now or respond with the smile we've become accustomed to. He holds hands with us and we with him. 

When he started hallucinations a few days ago, we knew what they were and had the medicine ready to go. The pre-death visions have come, too, and they come whether the medication is onboard or not. They are different for him, not agitating, and he seems to want to engage with them.

I've been taught that hallucinations can be frightening for the dying person and easily controlled with medication. That's been true for Dad. He looked at something in front of him, moving his head away from whatever it was.  “Don’t help me. Don’t help me.” He looked at me, then looked back, “Carry them away.” Medicine carried them away and he was peaceful. 

The next morning it seemed to me he’d gone back in time, watching several scenes unfold and speaking to whomever was in the scenes with him. No fear there.

And before all that started, he wanted his pocket knife and a handkerchief, gathering items for his journey.

Grandson, John R. and I heard Dad say something about an airplane though we couldn’t quite decipher what. The next night Dad asked Suzette, “How do we get off this airplane?” Suzette said, “Parachute?” Dad was quick to say, “Nooo.” For your viewing pleasure, Chris Duel sent along this clip of the airplane scene from Heaven Can Wait. Thanks, Chris.


Saturday morning I put on a piece a music Dad has chosen for his funeral. The intro played and Dad, who’d not been saying much, clasped his hands together and settled into his pillow. He looked off somewhere beyond us.


“Yes, Papa.”

There’s a stanza in the music,

Mother's there 'spectin' me,

And father's waitin' too,

Lots of folk are gathered there,

With the friends I knew.

With the friends I knew.

Home, home, I'm goin' home.

After those lines were sung he said, “Friends and family are gathering now.”

“Yes they are.”

Just before Suz and I got here last night, John was sitting with Dad. Dad said aloud, “When are we going over?”

John told him, “Soon.”

As he was reaching and reaching toward the window around three this morning Dad said, “Pull me further out.” 

Bit by bit he’s making his way. 

He can’t clear the phlegm from his throat now and he's not so interested in water. His breathing is coming more from his abdomen. Eyes are open sometimes, closed sometimes. He’s doing his work. 

Dad's not quite ready to go yet. We’ll keep playing music he loves and sit in this liminal space with him until he is. 

Martha Jo Atkins, Ph.D., LPC-S is the Executive Director of Abode Contemplative Care for the Dying in San Antonio, Texas. Dr. Atkins is a professional counselor, coach, and researches and teaches about the trajectory of dying. You can learn more about Abode Contemplative Care for the dying at www.abodehome.orgYou can learn more about Dr. Atkins at

Martha Atkins