Saturday I noticed a cycle. 

Noble lies in the bed on his back, stares overhead, unmoving, eyes still and away. His left hand begins to tremble, slowly at first then a rumble. Right hand follows. 

The rumble moves up his arms and shoulders. He raises his right hand to his mouth then to the bridge of his nose or eyes. His left hand scratches the crook of his right elbow. His right arm moves, left hand still in place, to scratch the back of his head. His right hand moves to fuss with a button midway down on his pajama top. His left hand lifts up and out toward something beyond him. Right hand follows.

He rises up off the bed just a bit enough to make the bed groan, talking to someone we can’t see, sometimes with gestures, sometimes not. Most of the time now we can't understand him. Last evening during several cycles, he smiled at what he saw. No words necessary.

He tries to clasp his hands together and can’t quite do it. As he his puts his arms down to rest, his hands tremble less and less until one stops. Then the other. 

His eyes become unfocused and he is still, mouth opens slightly, then wider. His head rests completely on the pillow

After many rounds of this I turned on a timer.

After two minutes thirty two seconds of rest or away-ness or whatever it is, the cycle started again. 

After 2:15, it started again. 






I timed the length of the trembling and connecting to whatever he's connecting to. Less than a minute both times:



When my Aunt Betty was dying, her daughter said Betty would get frustrated, reaching her arms up above her and grimacing, then dropping her arms like she was mad because someone had left.

Butch had a similar experience. He was frustrated when ‘the men’ came to see him on ladders and upon leaving, either took the ladders with them or the ladders were too short for Butch to use. Curses.

Every once in awhile we can understand Dad as he reaches:

“Wait! Wait!”

“Help me.”

“Please, please, please.”

"Heyyy! Hey Heyyy! 

Like Aunt Betty and Butch, Dad seems to want to connect with someone or some thing and can’t just yet. There have been times when he has looked frustrated, as if he wanted to cry -  head and face red, his lip pursed. I suspect there would be tears if his body wasn't so dehydrated. 

I sat by his bed last night. He reach out looking beyond me, "Please, please.”

I held his hand. “Dad, they’re coming back for you. Just a little while longer.” 

Another time he reached and looked at me, “Hello, Baby.” I don’t know if he was talking to me or not. I'm gonna go on and believe he was. 

Many kind souls have asked if we, Noble's family, have given him permission to go. Yes, we've told The Papa many times we want him to go when he's ready, we're ok here, he's taught us what we need to, and other variations on the theme. Unfinished business? Not that we're aware of but who knows. 

I imagine it must be terribly difficult to leave behind the ones you love. He's journeying on his time. We trust him. 

I timed the rest phases in-between contractions yesterday afternoon. They were longer.


What does it mean? Ah, that's the thing. We're in a mystery. Some things are knowable. Some things are not.

This morning there seems no down time at all. One continuous contraction. Moving. Moving. Moving. Medicine is calming him. His eyes don't seem as open this morning as they were yesterday.  

I raised the head of his bed up so he can see around the room. He's looked at me several times. I waved.

He nodded two quick nods. "Hey, Sweetie." THAT I understood.

His friend came to see just now. She leaned in close. 

"Hi, Pastor."

"Hi, Debi."  

Debi had a quick follow up question for Dad. He didn't answer, already gone to wherever he goes. 

Eyes closed, mouth open, hands in his lap, breathing easy, he's resting comfortably now.




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