November 13 – 14, 2013
One thing about being in ICU – there is always a nurse only a couple of steps away. After informing her of JD’s decision not to take the life support option, the nurse told me that JD’s blood pressure was being artificially maintained with medication and that this would continue, but no additional measures would take place. When he was ready for it, they would administer a sedative, to put him under. This would calm his breathing down and he would be able to be taken off of the noisy CPAP machine and have a smaller oxygen mask. I didn’t ask what would happen after that. I didn’t have to.
I relayed this to JD and he agreed to wait until his dad and sister came to see him. Time passed. Mom returned to the room. We took turns rubbing his feet, holding his hands, and placing cool cloths on his forehead and chest at his request. He was not allowed to drink anything (for fear of aspiration), but could suck on ice chips. He also wanted to sit up – also not allowed due to the recent angiogram.
After what seemed like an eternity, his dad and sister and her husband entered the ICU. JD’s first words were to tell them he loved them. He half-asked, half-mimed that he wanted his dad to hit a golf ball for him, in his memory. Then he wanted us to join hands together with him and recite the Lord’s Prayer, which we did.
JD’s dad did not seem to want to grasp the reality of the situation. Fight son! Don’t give up, he urged. The pastor was visibly upset. She and my mother went into the hallway. Mom told me later the pastor was ready to take his dad aside and tell him it was unfair to ask JD to keep fighting – JD needed to be allowed to die with peace. We had to let him go. Luckily, his dad calmed down and JD seemed to be paying him no mind.
Kiss me, kiss me! JD gasped. He removed his mask and we kissed each other on the lips, for the first time in months. (We had abstained from this intimacy for fear that I could give him a respiratory infection that could finish him off.)
Then he told us, Mom is here with me now. I am not afraid. I am ready to go. I love you all. Then he did something extraordinary.
He ripped his mask off of his face and threw it off the bed. Then he shouted, I am ready to go. Why am I still here?!
Handsome! I pleaded. It doesn’t work that way. Let me get the nurse. Please put your mask back on!
The nurse appeared with the medication. She injected it into JD’s IV port and he closed his eyes for the last time. His breathing calmed and the smaller oxygen mask was placed over his nose and mouth.
The next 5 hours were spent talking quietly around JD’s ICU bed, holding his hands and rubbing his feet. We all watched the monitors as the numbers decreased slowly, incrementally signalling the waning of his life. More visitors arrived: the rest of the wedding party of our 2010 nuptials, my kids from my first marriage…the nurses brought chairs for everyone.
At times I felt like I was hostessing this weird pre-funeral as I tried to engage everyone in turn, in conversation. JD’s dad was taking it particularly hard. He repeatedly asked me what they were giving JD to fight the cancer. I had to repeatedly tell him that the time for anti-cancer drugs and fighting was over.
I wasn’t sure how I felt about all of this. Shouldn’t I be focusing solely on my husband? In the end though, I think it was what I was meant to do.
At 12:18 am on Thursday, November 14, 2013 JD took his last breath. After everyone left the room, I asked the nurse for some washcloths so I could wash my husband and say goodbye to him privately before they took him away. I carefully wiped down his still warm face, hands, chest and feet, avoiding all of the tubes still left in him and hooked up to various machines and monitors. Then I left him in the loving care of the ICU nurses and went home, to spend my first night as a widow with my mother.