December 16, 2003


A few moments before the end, we were all sitting around in Madeleine's room, arrayed on chairs and a cot around her bed. Luce, Jean, and Marla were talking about wilderness retreats up in Canada.

Madeleine's breath had been getting shallower and quieter for some time, and one by one we were beginning to pay closer attention to that when there was a pause. We gathered more closely around --- Jean and Luce holding her hands, Marla and I stroking her head --- and she took another breath. Jean told her that her soul was going to soar, and I just kept telling her quietly that it was okay for her to let go, that it was okay for her to rest, that it was going to be all right. She took two, maybe three more irregular breaths, and then she was still, at a few minutes before eleven, with all of us holding her and wishing her well.

She left very quietly, very peacefully. We'd all been prepared for something physically wrenching, but there was none of that. Just a winding down, with enough notice that we were all able to give her attention and comfort as the end came.

We'd called for a doctor in the early moments, when we weren't sure what was going on, but the resident who came was very deferential and non-intrusive. About ten minutes after Madeleine drifted off, she checked for a heartbeat, found none, and left us alone with her again. Two more hospital staff (nurses? aides?) came by a while later to answer questions and offer help, but again they weren't pushy at all. Because of the disease and the chemo it wasn't possible for her to donate her organs, so there was no need to whisk her away.

We had plenty of time to cry and say our goodbyes and put things in order. Madeleine looked very much at rest --- skin smooth and soft and unlined, body in a position of repose. After she was gone, I told her she was beautiful, and told her it was going to be okay, and wished her lullabye and goodnight.

We packed up all our stuff and hers, and were out of the room by quarter to one or a little earlier. The cremation will be sometime soon, and I know Luce has said she intends to be there.

There's plenty more stuff to say, and questions to answer, and individual emails to respond to, but I'm going to go off to bed. I'm at Madeleine's house now, sitting at her dining room table, with classical music on the stereo, cats wafting through the room, and boxes and tins and jars of English food festooned liberally around. Tomorrow I'll co-ordinate a few things with Jean, check in again if necessary, and head home to Brooklyn.

Posted by angus at December 16, 2003 02:56 AM
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