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Never this Close

(photo by Gordon Wolford)

I know that I am fortunate that at 45 I've never seen dying up close and personal. I've had beloved great-grandparents, and grandparents die, and parents of some friends have died, former co-workers and acquaintances. But I've never been a witness, I've never been in the room of someone with only a few hours to live until last Thursday, January 7, when R, a friend of ours, who had been waiting for a liver transplant, had some major setbacks, including kidney failure, had no chance for a transplant, and, ultimately, had to be removed from life support.

I hadn't seen him in several months until my sister-in-law, who was also a friend of his, came up to see him and I went along with her. He looked the same except for the highway of tubes coming out of him and the fact that he was in an induced coma and not making his usual self-deprecating jokes. We touched his hand, his arm and talked to him a bit - just to let him know that he had visitors, not knowing for sure, but believing that even those in a coma can sense the presence of friends. My SIL jokingly told him that he better wake up because she was about to tell his wife, M, all of his secrets. The prognosis wasn't good, but he had pulled through so many obstacles in the last year that I figured he'd get through this one too.

But he didn't. That night he made a turn for the worse. The next day the doctors told M that he was no longer eligible for a transplant and there was nothing more that could be done. M had to make the decision to remove life support, and she knew R didn't want to postpone the inevitable. I can't imagine having to make that decision for my cat, much less my husband. Fortunately, not only is she a strong woman but she has a lot of friends, who were all standing outside R's room when my husband, his best friend D, and myself arrived Thursday night to say our goodbyes.

Within 24 hours he had completely transformed. The bloat from the edema cause by the liver disease was gone, his cheeks sunken, and his skin had gone from pale to burnt sienna. So. He really was going this time. I wasn't expecting to, but I began to cry. This was so real, so unexpected, so soon. He was only 49. He had never been a big drinker, never had Hepatitis, yet he got liver disease anyway. Scott and I said our good-byes, and I apologized for not having the backbone to help him and his wife out during his illness, then we left to let others into the room. We hugged M and soon after we went home. It felt odd to go back to our routine of plopping in front of the TV when someone we know is dying in a hospital a few miles away. But we did, somberly, lost in our own thoughts.

R left this world that night at 11:00 PM, with M by his side. He and his big, booming laugh will be missed.

death and dying, friends, and more:

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