Friday, February 4, 2011
There's something I can't get off my mind about the moments before my dad died. We were all standing around his bed, listening to the steady in and out of his breath. The pace of the breathing had not changed for days; it was the same as when he was on the respirator, in and out, labored. It was the only constant in the room as we moved in and out ourselves, going to get coffee or make a phone call, grabbing some fresh air or a cigarette. Our emotions were ragged and over-worked.
The doctor had said that all of his brain function was dead, only those things controlled by the brain stem kept going. This is what I found on the internet about brain stem function:
Activity in the brain stem is important for:
- bodily activities essential to survival, such as changes in heartbeat and breathing,
- initiation of a set of reflexes;
- the focusing of attention;
- patterns of arousal (that is sleeping versus waking).
If the brain stem is damaged, a person may lapse into a coma or even die because of its control of functions essential to survival.
Finally, as loud as any noise, the breathing stopped. We all stood there thinking, Is this it? And then he breathed a few more of those rhythmic breaths. In and out. In and out. And I'm not sure when in the time that he breathed some more and the time that his breathing stopped forever that this happened, but I looked at him and the smallest smile was on his face. The same smile that is in this picture.
I've only asked one sister if she saw this smile. It was much later, days or weeks or maybe even months after his death, but she says she didn't see it. There were other things, distressing things that happened right away to his body, and she remembers those things clearly.
It's corny, I know, but I like to think that in the seconds before his death, he sensed or saw something that made him happy. It comforts me that he was looking forward as we were saying goodbye.