Prologue to From Sun to Sun: A Hospice Nurse Reflects on the Art of Dying

And so, in the end . . .

The last five minutes are often the same: the chest expands from the shoulders as if with each breath they are attempting to shrug. It’s a posture of submission. Those with angst and fear—who have fought with every cell in the being to remain alive—are finally submitting to the process.

It’s quiet now.

I breathe with them.

The breath is shallow; like the end of a moan after making love.

If I’ve managed their symptoms well, they no longer have the sounds and scents that terrify their loved ones—the gasping, gurgling, and sighing at the end of exhalation and the oily, lappable scent of separating cells and closing synapses. The breaths are staccato as they diminish. The mouth opens as jaws relax, and one or more eyes may gently, slowly, close.

The heart quiets; less work to do now.

My hands remain under and over their heart, the hand on their back—between the shoulder blades—absorbing the beating, the slowing, the quieting.

I close my eyes and imagine strength and peace.

I place my mouth next to their ear and whisper, “Good work. Go with love. Thank you.” And sometimes I add, “Say hi to my sister MaryJane.”