A Beautiful Death

December 13, 2019

Editor's NoteThis is part of Nancy's Caregiving series. Please see other posts in this series.

When the doctor told us that Brett had run out of treatment options, I knew he was dying.

But the hospice physician gave us no sense as to how long Brett would last. I was at his bedside every morning as were his parents and sister. My parents came when they could and often took the twins back to Connecticut with them to give me time alone with Brett.

I sat vigil by his side, my angst only tempered when our twins Casey and Rebecca, not yet 3 years old, would come to visit, infusing the hospice halls with life.

The days were long. Mostly, Brett slept. It was an eerie feeling seeing my husband cloaked in a bed of white, not quite a ghost but also not entirely present. By now, when he was awake, his confusion was merciful. I didn’t have the heart to correct him when he asked what we’d done to the living room. It pained me, though, to hear him talk about work. Family and friends visited of course, but work was so central to Brett's identity that its absence was a significant void. My pain for Brett was heightened by the fact that not a single person from his company had reached out since he had entered home hospice a few months prior.  

By sheer serendipity I bumped into a former executive at Brett’s company on the subway and expressed my upset that none of his colleagues had been in touch, and now Brett only had days to live. He had no idea about Brett's state and assured me that he would take care of it. The next morning, some 30 colleagues showed up in a sea of town cars. We wheeled Brett into the hospice lounge and one by one his coworkers came to thank him and say their goodbyes. He sat like royalty, basking in the validation; I was so happy for him and grateful for this parting gift.

Just a few days later, day 10, Brett slipped into a coma. By day 12, Brett’s breathing became more labored and his blood pressure began to drop, signs that death was near. I wanted Casey and Rebecca to say goodbye, so my parents brought them for a short, final visit.  “Bye, Daddy,” Rebecca said, too frightened to leave my arms. “Bye, Daddy,” Casey said, as he tried to climb atop Brett’s unconscious body.

I don’t remember all the tiny moments of that day, or how it came to be that a crowd of 17 shared in the moment of Brett’s death. Had I known that day would be Brett’s last day alive, I might have asked people to leave, especially since many people had shown up unexpectedly. No one expected Brett to die in their company, but when they realized they were witnessing his final moments, they stayed, circling me and Brett’s family in a web of love that was overpowering.

“Let go,” said Brett’s cousin Seth.

“It’s okay, Brettski,” said his cousin John.

“Let go, let go, let go,” everyone began to chant.

“It’s okay,” I whispered in his ear. “You can let go now. I’m not alone.” Brett died in my arms at 4:45 p.m. on February 21, 2004.

In spite of my fears that Brett would die in a bold, dramatic fashion, his death was both beautiful and peaceful.


Suggested Resources:


10 Tips for Caregivers

Friends & Family

Talking to Kids and Teens about Cancer


Fear of Death and Dying

On Your Terms: A Conversation About End-of-Life Care


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