Friday, March 22, 2013

He died in my sleep

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50 years ago, an elderly couple lived next door to my parents. One day my mother told me that the woman had awoken that morning to discover her husband, lying next to her, had died during the night. “He died in his sleep.”

Some 20 years later, mother was in the last stages of Parkinson’s disease. Her breath was labored to the point that early one morning, around 3 a.m., my father was awoken by the silence which filled the room when she had stopped breathing. My father never, to my knowledge, said, “She died in her sleep.”

Interesting concept that, “died in sleep,” isn’t it?

How do we know that either my mother or her neighbor died without awakening? Surely the possibility of a last second awareness of the finality of the process exists? Surely the brain, responding to diminishing stimuli could/does/must trigger  an alarm to itself that something major is amiss?

Surely there’s a good chance of a last “Ah,” “Oh,” “Hmm,” “No,” or “Yes, thank you.”

“He died in his sleep” is such a nice euphemism; it’s comforting. It allows an escape from dealing with the problem of final moments and how they should be—must be?—faced.

It would also be more accurate to say, as my father implied, “She died in my sleep,” and more realistic.

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