Octave Shifts

When I got to his bedside yesterday morning, Dad’s body was hot for the first time since his initial go at labor a couple weeks ago. Hospice patients are notorious for getting better before moving into different levels of experience. In retrospect, I see he did that. He wasn’t ready. He is now. 

The heat is an indicator. The change in the color of his pee, the way his eyes look and don’t see me sometimes, his movement, his language, all indicators of octave shifts (thank you for that language, FF) he’s made and will make over the next few days.

Wednesday Dad said, “I’m twisted up.” 

Thursday morning, “Martha, I’m scared.”

“Ah, Papa, what are you scared of?”


He’d done several full body jerks up in the bed, wide-eyed each time. 

“Papa, your safe in the bed. We won’t let you fall.”


Metaphorically, as John so eloquently put it, “He’s falling out of life.” Soon after he talked of falling, “I’m turned around. Martha, will you help me? I’m turned around.” He was lying in his bed just as he had been. 

“Papa, I don’t know how to help you. Do you know how to help you?”

“Sweetie, I’m afraid I don’t.”

John asked, “Do you feel turned around in your mind or body?” 


We rearranged Dad on the bed and that seemed to calm him. Medicine for agitation helped, too. 



Turned Around.

Then a new question. “How do I get out of my apartment?” Yes...Once he’s unbound, he can begin traveling. He's wondering how in the world to get out of here.

Early yesterday morning Dad begin to talk about the light.

"Would you turn on the light?"

"Can you get the light on? I feel helpless."

"Where is the light?"

"Would you make it brighter?"

“Turn on the light."

The lights are on now and Dad is moving into the next octave of work.

From The Google: 

Terminal - of, forming, or situated at the end or extremity of something. 

Restlessness - never at rest; perpetually agitated or in motion

Man it was a long night. 

Terminal restlessness is part of the experience.

Some folks only use words like delirium, agitation, and hallucinations when describing this juncture of the journey of dying. If that’s all they see, they’re missing out.

For Dad and me last night, terminal restlessness looked like: balling up the sheet between hands, nose picking, working hard to get out of bed even when there’s been no out of bed-ness for weeks, dropping every pillow, blanket, sheet, kleenex, towel, piece of clothing to the floor, all kinds of movement in bed, a red faced man whose is momentarily M. A. D. 

“You’re holding me.” 

I had my hand on his leg so he wouldn’t scooch of the bed.

“Yes, Papa, I’m holding you.” 


“I want you to be safe. You haven’t walked in a long time. ” 

"The walls. How do I break the walls?"

"I don't know Dad. You'll figure it out."


I gave him medicine. Then more. After 45 minutes he slept a few hours. It started all over at 6 this morning. 

“Too small for me. Too small for me. Take this off please.” His body is too small for his spirit now. It’s about time to shake it loose. 

This part of the process sucks. It’s damn sure hard for me to watch and experience with him. I know it will pass. I keep reminding myself it will. 

Dad looked past me this morning. “Is that Britney behind you?” 

“No, Dad, it’s not. Is it someone friendly?” 

“I think so.”

As he looked out the window, “I don’t see a car there.”

“No cars, huh.”

“No cars.”

"I bet there will be some later." 

Around nine this morning I got six cheer me on text messages one after the other from different friends. Then a message from Betsy. No words, simply a link to Barber’s Adagio for Strings. 

Dad was finally still and I could be, too. I turned on the music. I held his hand. I cried from weariness. I cried for the men killed this week. I cried because each octave shift is a step closer to unbinding. I cried because my dad is dying.

Then back to the present. It's bath day. 


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.

Martha Atkins