At my father’s bedside, I learned about death


My father spent 10 days dying. He was 84 and he had lost his wife – my mother, whom he adored, and without whom he felt life was a lot less worth living – three years earlier. He died of old age, and it was entirely natural.

The process, though, did not feel that way at all, at least not to me. Dad had been bedridden for months and was in a nursing home. He stopped eating one day, then started slipping in and out of consciousness. Soon he stopped drinking.

For 10 days my sister and I sat by his bedside, holding his hand, moistening his lips. Slowly his breathing changed, became more ragged. During the last few days, the tips of his fingers turned blue. His skin smelled different. His breath gradually became a rasp, then a rattle.

It sounded awful. We were sure he was in pain. The doctor reassured us he wasn’t; this was a human body dying naturally, shutting down, one bit at a time. We had not, of course, talked about any of this with Dad beforehand; we had no plans for this, no idea of what he might have wanted. It would have been a very difficult conversation.

Read the rest of this article, by Jon Henley, on The Guardian website.