Winding Down

The tremors in his hands have mostly ceased. This morning he worked to touch the side of his mouth as he’s been doing repetitively for the last week. A laborious movement this time, his hand heavy and slow to reach it’s destination. 

Then a boost of energy. His eyes open wide and locked to something above him on the ceiling or beyond it, with an easy movement he reached up directly overhead, held his arm suspended for a long moment then slowly brought it down to his side. 

Twelve hours later, he’s not lifting his hands at all. 

Last night I was alone with him. No music or television, just us and the air conditioner hum. Dad exhaled. I heard a click. I tilted my head closer to him. 


I moved my chair closer to his bed.

Click Click, like fast tap dance steps. 

I listened to the cadence, to the air conditioner, to the train going by. I recognized the start of breathing changes. 

“We’re here now,” I said to myself. “Ok.”

His eyes are glassy tonight. His hands warm earlier in the afternoon, cool now. 

He’s winding down.

One of my forever friends came over today. Kelli, John, and I sat around Dad’s bed. We talked in our regular voices, not loud and not the whispered ones from earlier in the week, just regular. 

We laughed. We told stories about our families. We were silly and relaxed I imagine because we’re so damn tired and can feel the big tending of Dad is done. 

The hourly medications aren’t required. He’s not moving and working to get himself out of bed. He easing into his next step in the journey, as are we.

I kissed his head.

“Dad, I’m going to the motel. I’ll be back around nine in the morning. Suzette will be here by then and she’s bringing the pup. If you want to wait around for us, great. If you need to go on tonight, that’s ok, too. 

We love you. I love you. You’ve been working so hard. John will be here with you tonight. He’ll take good care of you. 

Rest well.”

I gave him another kiss and gathered my things to go. Out Dad's window I noticed a combine in the cornfield.

It's harvest time.


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