Doors, Doors, and Metaphors

Courtesy of

Courtesy of

Fabeku Fatumnise, a friend and teacher of mine, taught me a phrase one his teachers taught him; Fire makes a way for itself. 

The heat and cool patterns Dad was experiencing last week ceased for a few days. 

Braxton Hicks contractions. The Google says they “can be first felt around mid-pregnancy and increase in frequency and strength as your pregnancy progresses.”

Dad’s full on labor, the pushing that will help him leave his body, has yet to come. I wonder though if the first wave of heat and cool helped usher in the place he’s in now, fire making a way.

He asked earlier today if he had a fever. “I don’t know, Papa. Do you think you do?” “Maybe.” I didn’t check to see. The conversation didn’t feel like we were talking about practical matters but something else.

Last night I saw a change in Dad’s connection to here. This is the first time in a few day that’s happened. He was fidgety, folding and refolding Kleenex and moving to and fro in the bed - two things he’s not done much at all. He was inside himself, not talking much. 

He’s been spot on the last three days, calling friends by name, calling staff by name, telling visitors about the beautiful flowers gifted to him from his church brought over by "my good friends, The Tuckers". He's had lots of orange sherbet and juice. So much juice!

He's giving us clues now that he is in process, slowly and surely making his way to full-on labor.

Yesterday afternoon he asked, “How did I get to this room?” This is a big signpost that things are changing. The present reality is giving way to another one. 

The metaphorical language has begun in earnest. 

"I don't want to leave to late." As John says, Dad was not talking about Texas Central Standard Time.

“Has the insurance man been by to see about fixing the car door?” This is a wiz bang metaphor as it encompasses travel and his ability to do it. Something needs change so the car can go safely, so he can go safely.

Dad has begun now, as many dying people do, to talk about doors. He started with the car door which is not not broken in real life. He talked about a swinging door this morning and wondered if someone would be behind if it swung open. He asked John, “How did you get in here?” John told him through the door in living room which Dad couldn’t quite imagine. He’s lived in this apartment for ten years. Doors and the language around them important to this process. 

Tonight Dad’s been moving his legs in the bed repetitively. 

“I don’t know why I feel so wrapped up.”

“You’re gonna get unwrapped, Papa. You’re gonna get unwrapped.”


“I’m twisted.”

“You’re twisted. What can we do to get you untwisted?”

“Sweetie I’m not sure.”

He’s been restless for an hour or so tonight. He’s pulled the sheets and blanket off of himself. He’s checking his watch. Lifting his left leg again and again. I asked if he’d like some medicine to calm him. “I believe I would.”

Another metaphor.

"I wonder how to make my bed go up.” I dutifully raised the head of the bed. He responded, “Well, that’s one way.” Ha. 

The language of getting up and out will give way soon to physically trying to get up and out of bed, his external self trying to make sense of what his internal self needs.

He's doing his work. We're supporting him as best we can. For the record, my brother's a rockstar caregiver. 

Thank you for coming along and witnessing this time with us. The writing will help me remember, synthesize and teach. For now it's helping me make sense of what's happening in these moments. The stories you all are posting and sending me about your own experiences are wonderful. I can’t respond to them all. I am reading them and I do thank you. 

Time for hand holding and ice cream eating.

Happy 4th. 



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