Life as an Extreme Sport

John Chaplain

We’ve circled around Mom, the chaplain leaning over her whispering words of comfort and encouragement. Words of God, eternalness, the something after that we cannot define but attempt to anyhow, that we all believe in, in our obscure ways. We carry on. We continue.

I am across from him, Tracy and my father at the foot of the bed. Tracy is standing; Dad is sitting in the family-carved rocking chair, watching. The air is thick, palpable with Others. We don’t know who her visitors are, but they’re there. Molly, my sister’s cat, sees them. She’s clearly seeing people, responding to people we cannot see.

The chaplain finishes his prayers with a soft song, and Mom is smiling. She’s reached out, several times, and Tracy and I have taken her hands. But after a minute, she withdraws from us, and holds out again – holds out to someone else. I wonder who she’s seeing?

We sit, quietly around her. In order to sit down, I shift to the end of the bed, in a small rocking chair. I am directly in line with her (and if you take the cat’s reaction as gospel, sitting on someone we can’t see), and can see her chest rise and fall as she barely breathes. I find myself unconsciously mimicking her apnea, matching my breathing to her own, holding my breath without meaning to. I take a breath through my mouth, as she does, and hold, hold, hold, until my breath flows out of me. Hers does not – she stays, not breathing, for another few seconds, and there is that pause, that wonder, if this is it.

Tracy and I firmly believe she will die when we are not in the room. We’re turning off the baby monitors, and no longer spending our time around her bedside. We’re giving her space, as part of our permission, our love, our letting go.