Written March 2013, I was coming to terms with Paul being admitted to hospice. All of life was in the present moment and we took it a day, and sometimes an hour, at a time.
Today I met with the hospice nurse, while she looked over Paul's charts, his stats and took in how he looked. Pulse, temp. all that stuff fine. "He could be like this for a little while", she said, "he's only lost one pound this week, now he's 110. So you don't want to stop your life, put it on hold."
"So", I asked, "how do you know when someone is ready to die?" "You don't know", she said. "For him it could be tomorrow or a month from now. He could aspirate on some food and that could turn into pnemonia. If we see that things are very close we will call you. But don't think you have to be in here every day. Go have your life and be with your son."
I was just talking to a friend tonight, Chuck, who lost his mother a year ago. "I was at a Y Indian Guides meeting and I get the call from the nursing home; 'Your mothers dead'. And I had to tell the guys I gotta go my mother just died and they looked at me and said 'Your mother just died and you were here?'
There's this idea I have, maybe from the movies, maybe from reading obituaries of well known people, that they were constantly surrounded by their family and friends.
Who has the time to do that?
Who has the free pay-check?
Here their are elderly spouses that come and see their partners on a daily basis and they are the ones that do that. Otherwise the families are working and come on weekends.
Their was an older man in the nursing home, he'd had a stroke and his family would show up once a week and pull him into the tv room and they'd play music; guitar's, horns.... I sat in with them a few times and the dad played the bongos a bit, and I sang. That was the Sprague family and they are exceptionally gifted musically and quite beloved in the county. Quite a family and they really fit that ideal I had of going out with the family all around.
But a lot of families live far from one another. Paul's family lives in the Bay Area or on the east coast. So when they visit it's a real commitment. This weekend Paul's first wife, Sachiko Kanenobu Williams is coming to visit with her partner and I really look forward to seeing her. She's a singer-songwriter and she and Paul met in Japan right before the release of her debut album in 1969.
Mostly what I see here at the nursing home is aging lonely people with no one visiting them. And that is a fact, though a sad one.
Death is like a birth, in that it seems like you'd want someone to be there to witness the experience. But maybe the witnessing is happening on the other side, (as one is escorted into the new experience ones energy will take).
Paul and I saw many a talk with Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hahn in which he talked about death. He said the wave is afraid of not being a wave anymore, and doesn't realize that it is part of the water, a part of the whole sea..and that is us.
One of the deathbed stories that has stuck with me over the years is from a book called Paradise Outlaws: Remembering the Beats by John Tytell with photographs by Mellon.
On February 26m 1994, the day of the World Trade Center bombing, Mellon accompanied Allen Ginsberg on the D train to the Bronx Veterans Hospital to visit Carl (Solomon) on his deathbed. Carl was getting oxygen, Allen took copious notes and some photographs, and encouraged Mellon to use her camera as well. At one point he cleaned Carl's glasses with affectionate warmth.
Then, bending over him, Allen asked Carl's forgiveness for having put him in the spotlight and making him a sensational cipher for universal suffering in "Howl."
Mellon reported that Carl was calmly surrealistic in his last hours, claiming that he was still thinking about sex though he was fading.
I don't know how much time Paul has left in him or what he'll be thinking about on his way out, but he has been enjoying some little things this week: the smell of essential oils like lavender, the familiar chords and chorus' of the Beach Boy's Pet Sounds, and a few times being sat up, propped up, so he can look out the window.
He grows increasingly difficult to communicate with, he's moving further away, but these few lovely things are the last tethers to this world we have all agreed to be in together.