Recently I was given the gift of being present with a loved one as she passed away. Surrounded by loved ones, Anna’s body gently shook twice as she inhaled and exhaled her last breath. We had been listening for a long time as changes in her breathing pattern ebbed and flowed. With no heart monitor to watch, we only had her physical form to notice and we kept a sharp eye and ear open for every labored breath. As her breathing grew steadily more labored and louder, we wondered if we would keep our vigil all night. After all, there were three of us and we could take turns. But really nobody wanted to leave her in her last hours even though the doctors weren’t sure if she would last for a few more hours, a few more days or a week. Steadfastly, we remained and received the honor of being with her when she passed away. Her last breath shook her body and then all stilled in the ICU. We waited, looking at each other expectantly waiting for her to draw her next breath. I looked through the glass door to see her doctor look at me with sad eyes.
“I think she just took her last breath,” one of us said as the three of us huddled together around her now lifeless body.
We said prayers for Anna, tears streaming down our faces, holding hands across the bedsheets as we stood around her bedside. We told her how much we loved her, what a great life she had lived and how we hoped that Jesus had come to take her home after her well-lived life journey. We promised to take care of our other Aunt whom she loved. We murmured gentle reminders of happier memories which are pinned on our hearts. We promised her that we would take her to be buried with her parents as she wished. We told her over and over how much we had loved her ~ just like we had done when she was alive.
Quietly one of the nurses slipped in after about 15 minutes and he confirmed that her heart had stopped beating and that indeed that had been her last breath here on Earth. Silently we watched as he disconnected her from the machines which had given her medicines to comfort her during her last hours. With much respect for her and for us, he only spoke when we asked him a question. We needed a few more minutes to allow the reality of what we had just experienced, to sink into our hearts and minds. We had been with her as she crossed over, just as the 3 of us had been there when my Dad’s heart stopped beating.
It’s a bonding experience for those who are honored to be with a loved one as they pass away. Sissy, Mom and I have been together twice now and I will say, it’s not for the faint of heart. Tears pour down our cheeks as we realize the enormity of what we have just experienced together ~ witnessing a loved one’s body stop living.
And I wonder how it must feel to have no pain, no worries and be able to rejoice and to embrace love, light and God’s goodness all at once? I wonder if she knew we were there and she was not alone? I wonder that even though her brain had died, could she still hear us and if she knew that we were there with her?
I miss hearing Anna’s voice and seeing her. I miss her eagle eyes that always caught me as a child if I did something naughty (which wasn’t often mind you!) I miss the loving being that she was here on Earth for me. I hope she knows that she is resting permanently next to her parents as was her request and our mission accomplished. But I feel her more now I think ~ I feel a presence which when I get quiet feels like a friend who’s watching out for me. Perhaps an added angel over my shoulder? I could surely use a bit of heavenly strength right about now.
So this post today is for you Anna ~ 84 years young, you lived your life the way you wanted to and we were proud to say you were our Aunt. Surely you’ve seen/heard our Dad already, because knowing him, he’s part of the welcoming committee with St. Peter, calling out your name loudly and probably swinging on the Pearly Gates! Rest in Peace dear Aunt Anna and Dad too. You live on in our hearts.