One Last Breath

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Photograph by Matteo Silvestri


Sometimes, we’re called upon to sit and hold the hand of a dying elder. Someone we’ve spend time talking to and loving. Now, her eyes are closed and she’s laying upon her final bed. There’s no room for hope or miracles. She’s going to die here.

It’s like this. You sit and she lies down. She’s unconscious, but you talk and share stories about your times together. It’s nice to think about these things now. Her breath is consistent; in-and-out every twelve seconds, or so. You tell her how much you love her and how she’s going to a better place.

Others stop by. They say hi, something else and then bye. You continue talking. Telling her how nice it was for so-and-so to stop by. So-and-so is so busy with this-and-that and it’s so nice. You share another story or maybe tell her about your week.

The doctor walks in, looks at some charts and… there’s just no hope. Nothing to be done. But, thank goodness, it’s a miracle she’s breathing. It’s just what happens when you get to that age. You tell her a little more about your life. Maybe a secret, or something sneaky like that.

Time goes by. Her breath is consistent, but slowing. Maybe every fourteen seconds, or so. It’s easy to remember, because the little machine next to you counts all these complex things for you. It’s boring though. There’s just… nothing left to say.

Another hour goes by. Then two and three. Someone comes for a few moments, then leaves. Four, five and six. You’re so hungry… and selfish. This is so hard. I don’t want her to die, but it’s been so long. I have things to do.

Seven then eight. You tell some stories, but sometimes to the clock on the wall. You watch the little machine and see the numbers getting lower and lower. Slower heart. Slower breath. Slower electronic pulse… everything slower. Each shallow breath takes hours. It feels like days. Secretly, you want her to die. Not for you, of course, but for her own sake. It’s so uncomfortable in this chair… I mean her bed. She loves big lush pillows, not these shallow white ones.

Then it happens. The last breath. If you’ve ever heard it… it’s indistinguishable. The first time I heard it, I knew what it was before I was certain. It’s guttural. It’s taking every last piece of air out of those dry lungs for one last journey. It’s the sound of death.

And you’re destroyed. Just moments ago, you wanted this woman to die. You wanted to get back to your life. To your food. To your activities. But now… it’s over. You’d trade every last sandwich for another moment with her. Just one more breath, please God.

But, it’s done. You immediately understand how unimportant your shit is and really begin to understand what’s actually important.