In-Between

Evenings bring out a different Noble. Repetitive movement with the kleenex, working to fold and unfold. Eye glasses off and on and off. Pulling the sheet towards his eyes to wipe them. Pushing sheets away then pulling again. Rubs right eye. Rubs left eye. Looks for kleenex.

As evening turns into night, Dad’s sentences come out garbled. He’s here then not, eyes present and in a flash, a look that tells me he’s far far away.

He’s back in the morning, greeting the loves who come to visit him. 

“Hi, Sweetie.”

“There’s John-o.”

“Hi, Liz.”

"Is someone at the door?"

"No, Papa. Well, maybe." He's beginning to hear things we cannot.

This morning, Doris and Dee, two of Dad's caregivers and friends came as they do each morning before starting their day. They were off shortly to give morning baths. “Help the ladies smell pretty”, he told them as he waved good-bye. 

He had coconut cream pie for breakfast and afternoon snack, along with orange sherbet. Perfection. 

His face is changing, cheeks sinking in a bit.

“Your arms are getting thin, Dad.” 

“Yes.”

More pain medicine yesterday and today than others days though still not much. He is comfortable and peaceful, and more present than I imagined he'd be now. 

Jo Buyske recommended a Tennyson poem, Crossing the Bar.

Last year I helped a client think about what he wants at end of life. He wasn’t dying though he wanted to be prepared for when he was. The Tennyson poem is one he wants read to him. I was unfamiliar with it so he sent it along. 

I was happy to see Jo’s recommendation of the same poem. She included a link to music and the poem combined. I remembered it this it afternoon. The meaning is rich for me in new ways now. 

Jasmine, hospice aide extraordinare, was giving Dad a bath. 

“Hey, Dad. Do you know a Tennyson poem with the phrase Crossing the Bar?”

Eyes closed enjoying his scrubbing. 

He opened his eyes and looked to the ceiling.

“Yes. Crossing the Bar is the title.”

He closed his eyes and recited slowly:

"Sunset and evening star, 

      And one clear call for me! 

And may there be no moaning of the bar, 

      When I put out to sea, 

But such a tide as moving seems asleep, 

    Too full for sound… 

When that which drew from…

When that which…

When that which..

No moaning of the bar…

Turns again home…

He couldn’t find the words, this man, who a few weeks ago could recall word for word poems he’d first learned in 1935.

Mouth momentarily dry, lips sticking to teeth.

“Let me get you some water, Papa. May I play a rendition of the poem for you?”

“Yes, please.”

While Jasmine finished bathing his thinning legs, I sat at the head of the bed and balanced my Macbook close to his good ear.

His tears didn't start until "when I see my Pilot..."

Mine started at "may there be no sadness of farewell when I embark..." Shooo. 

Then there was sleeping.

It's evening again and he’s stepped back to an in-between place.

The Shears came to visit tonight and I watched Dad pull himself back here for a few minutes. So much energy to do that. Then away again. Then back to bid me adieu. 

“I’ll see you in the morning, Papa.”

“Where are you going?”

“To sleep at motel.”

“Oh, that’s good.”

A kiss on his forehead for him.

An affirmative nod for me.

Goodnight.

 

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 www.marthaatkins.com.