Jan 1, 2016

I sat next to his bed, just the two of us.  His wife had gone to rest in another room.  It was coming up on 11:30 p.m. (January 1).  I'd found a copy of Heaven's Gate in among his vast collection of films, put it my laptop and was intent upon getting to the scene with the homesteaders waltzing on rollerskates.  He once told me his favorite film was The Deer Hunter, but he was also very proud of that scene in Gate.

As the evening wore on his breathing stabilized; the morphine seemed to be working finally.  Earlier in the evening he sounded as though he were drowning and hadn't the strength to get a full breath. But now the passages had partly cleared; he reached for each breath like a swimmer in a slow crawl.   I swabbed his lips with a wet sponge the size of a teaspoon. I gave him an eyedropper's pinch of water. Before, he had responded to liquid, but not now.  At one point, I pressed on his shoulder and he moved, as though startled, and took a clear breath.  I moved away for a moment and returned.  A slightly foul scent hung in the room.  For no reason, I sat down again in the chair next to his bed and recited the mantra, om mane peme hum.  My wife had done something similar the night before. I repeated it perhaps a hundred times or more, reaching that point when the repetitions pile up on each other and only the beginning of the mantra can be heard.  My voice was quickly running out and I thought to get a glass of water.   I stood up and glanced at him; his breathing seemed to have all but stopped.  I reached to find a pulse in his neck, which seemed cool.  I tried his right wrist; leaned closer to his mouth. I wished I had a mirror.  I tried the other wrist, but there was nothing. I wondered if I was doing it correctly. I tried again.  It occurred to me that he had crept away on a breath and I hadn't noticed....

The death of VZ. At nearly 11:40 pm, January 1st, 2016.

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