+Newsletter devoted to a cranio sacral therapist’s account of treating someone through terminal lung cancer. – March 06
I’m devoting this newsletter to a letter I received recently from
a cranio sacral therapist I trained some years ago. It is her
account of treating someone through terminal lung cancer.
It’s an inspiring story, full of courage and beauty and it’s a
cracking good piece of writing too.
I started treating Jack once a week at his home in February 2004.
He’d been diagnosed with aggressive and terminal lung cancer,
with secondary cancer spreading throughout his bones, particularly
his spine. The two largest tumours sat either side of his pulmonary
Jack had been having severe back pain for some months until he
was finally dragged along (by his wife) to the local doctor in January.
Before the doctor’s visit he came to a meeting at our house during
that month and he could barely sit in a chair for longer than fifteen
minutes. I was going to offer to treat him for his back pain then,
but something told me no.
Jill rang me after seeing the doctor to tell me the news. I offered
then to go and see him about treatment. I felt that I could help
him with the pain. Jill and Jack have been together for just over
20 years – second marriage for both.
Born in 1947, Jack was
estranged from his family, including five adult sons and ten
grandchildren he’d never seen, as well as his own brother and
step-sister. Jill’s adult children were close to her, but not close
to Jack. His family was Jill and his church – he’s a devout Mormon.
They were immediately referred on to specialists at Prince Charles
Hospital and, his prognosis? They recommended chemotherapy
and radiation therapy to start immediately, which may give him
an extra month or two, but he had less than a year. Jack gave
them the big finger and decided on his own way of getting better.
He took TBL-12, a foul-tasting mixture from Vanuatu made with
sea urchins, plus special vitamins; but most of all he gave it up
to his God.
Jack believed totally that God would heal him. The cancer was
a test of some kind and that there was a purpose in having this
illness. He believed that he had something to learn. He read his
Bible and the Book of Mormon – all the time.
My biggest memory of Jack is how he was always sitting when
I came to visit. Propped up in bed, with his right leg up, right
hand rubbing his constantly painful thigh, reading glasses perched
on the end of his nose and his treasured bible in his lap.
Reading, always reading.
I never took a full patient history from Jack. The first time I
treated him I remember feeling that he was an intensely private
man. Very secretive. Even though I’ve known him for about four
years I have never really looked him in the eye, so to speak,
because his physical stance was always the same. Slightly hunched
over at the shoulders and looking down at his feet. He shuffled
his feet and his eyes rarely looked up.
Even when I treated him – mostly at his ankles – as he lay on
his bed he averted my eyes. If he spoke to me (rarely at the
beginning), his eyes where closed. His system however, was a
seething mass of action compared to the surface.
From the first treatment, I felt his body accepted and used the
‘help’ with a kind of voracity I had never experienced. There was
so much to do. The cancer felt massive and almost untouchable.
It had a ‘brilliant’ quality – as if it had its own power source.
Our contract was for me to help with his pain. He had a lot.
At the start, it was in his spine and pelvis and running down his
right leg. The right pelvis was particularly bad. So, there was a
lot of releasing and easing of the pain and I spent a lot of time
settling. From the beginning, Jack had almost total relief from
pain after treatment. But only for a short time – a day at best.
After a few weeks I went twice a week to try and stretch out
the pain-free periods for him. The pain moved and changed
over the next month. It was in his upper chest and left shoulder
and still in his right thigh. Both places were agony for him.
He was always rubbing ointment into the flesh to no avail,
so much so that the Nurophen cream actually burnt the skin.
At this stage he was still not on any medication. Only the
TBL-12 and vitamins.
By April I was seeing Jack a few times a week. He said that he
would never complain again if only the pain in his right thigh
would go away. There were big releases during treatment, but
the pain would only let up for a few hours. During this time I
never felt that I my intention was in the right place. The
restrictions were releasing, but within a couple of days they
were back again, perhaps even stronger. The cancer felt bigger
and more powerful, but at the same time, it still felt like just
another part of his body. The ‘shining star’ quality was still
there but it yelled ‘untouchable’. It had its own impenetrable
boundaries, but while it ‘looked’ alien, it didn’t feel alien.
Jack had been to the hospital a couple of times for further
check-ups. This was only for Jill’s benefit. He hated the
notion of hospital, the control of doctors and being around
sick people. Giving up control of his world was anathema to
him. Every time he went to the hospital under duress, his
system would take a couple of treatments just to get over
the trip. This agitation in his body caused more pain as well.
It was a very ‘buzzy’ feeling and it made the gap between his
‘inner’ and ‘outer’ further apart. It was harder to bring the
two together and very hard to settle.
From the first time I put my hands on Jack, his body felt
harmonious. Even with all the ‘action’ and releasing, there was
no sense ever of disharmony. His body was doing exactly what
it wanted to be doing. Cancer included.
Knowing the situation between Jack and Jill was very tricky, to
say the least. Spending so much time with people means that
they can’t put on an act for your benefit. From my perspective
their relationship was so toxic that I almost felt physically sick
at times. If she came into the room during treatment his system
would go awol. They were verbally abusive to each other and
their whole way of communication was like an aggressive power
play. However, both seemed genuinely contrite after the nastiness.
He spoke well of her, described her as his soul mate; and she
was remorseful after swearing at him in a way that would curl
even my ears.
During treatment Jack sometimes talked about himself. I felt that
he never really had that opportunity with anyone else. He told
me that he knew something was wrong with him 12 years ago.
‘I had a pain in my chest… right where the main tumour is now.’
‘Did you go to the doctor back then?’
‘No, hate doctors…’
These conversations were always very quiet. Hushed tones. If Jill
was at home, he spoke almost in a whisper.
Jill was almost always watching TV while I treated Jack. Sitting
only a few metres away in the lounge, but the TV was loud and
she was often smoking. The smoke drifted past us and out the
bedroom window. Something that always irritated Jack and I felt
was such a lack of respect. To have smoke drifting past a man
with lung cancer.
‘Is there anything you need?’ I often asked him if there was
anything specific about his pain or treatment in general. It was
May and I was going away for a five days.
There was a long silence then, ‘Sometimes, all I want is a hug.’
I felt a huge rush of emotion. My eyes were closed and I was
sitting as usual at his ankles. My drill was to go to the lounge
and get the grey poof, then into his bedroom where I sat on the
grey poof while I treated him from his ankles. I supported my
weight on my knees and my legs splayed out beside me.
Performing this very ‘grasshopper-like’ exercise almost daily
allowed me to find my own centre of gravity and get past my
own pain and discomfort very quickly.
I really didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t just stop the treatment
and rush to give him a hug, even though that was my first reaction.
And I thought that he’d be getting hugs from Jill – surely? So I sat.
A good moment to stay in ‘armchair’. I felt so much pain. His and mine.
But I didn’t know if that was just because of what he’d said. It’s a
fairly gut-wrenching thing to hear from a man in his condition.
I opened my eyes. There must have been a questioning look
on my face. His eyes were very blurry, but he wasn’t actually crying.
‘Jill and I haven’t had sex for 12 years. We haven’t been close
for that long.’
‘That’s another reason I knew something was wrong…. besides
the pain in my chest.’
I just nodded.
‘All that just stopped working.’
He was pointing to the ‘Y’ in his Y-fronts.
(Enough information, I thought, I’ve got the picture)
At the end of May I asked Jack to come to Resource Day so John
could check him out. I had no idea if what I was doing was in the
right direction, and I still had no idea about the controlling restriction.
By then movement was extremely difficult for him and he had
relented slightly about any form of pain relief. That trip, although
painful, was very helpful for me. The information that John provided
about Jack’s system and his secret life gave me the ability to go to
a new level with the treatments.
Mind games – mine.
There’s such a dichotomy in treating people who are deteriorating
so rapidly. Maintaining respect for the process whilst having the
human wish for ‘life’ in the back of your mind. I was often in two
minds with Jack. He’s dying, oh my goodness I think he’s going to
live. The ‘armchair technique’ is the only way to get through this.
Especially when Jack’s whole conversation is that he’s getting better
and that he’s going to beat this cancer and live.
‘I’m getting better?’
He asked me after every treatment, ‘How am I?’, ‘When am I going
to start getting better?’, ‘Soon?’, ‘Have the tumours stopped growing?’,
‘How long do you think it’s going to take to turn this around… six months?’,
‘How is it?’, ‘What’s happening?’……….
My answer was mostly the same, along the lines of – I don’t know,
but your body’s feeling very harmonious, it’s doing exactly what
it needs to do. Jack really got the ‘harmonious’ thing. That’s exactly
how he felt at the end of treatment. He felt the harmony and he
loved the feeling very much. That’s one thing I could really help
with after taking Jack to see John. Getting the ‘outer’ to get closer
to the ‘inner’. Bringing the Jack who’s saying ‘I’m getting better’,
towards the inner Jack that’s saying ‘I’m doing exactly what I
want to be doing (cancer included)’. The gap between the two
was like an electrical force field. When that gap was wide, he
had more pain and agitation. During treatment, the gap would
lessen and the inner harmony melded with his ‘I’m getting better’
When the two ‘worlds’ dissolved together it was a beautiful thing.
Awesome. I often had tears running down my cheeks from this
feeling. It was a blissful state, a perfect place. If he was awake,
Jack knew the exact moment of this happening. He’d say ‘That’s it’
or a small groan would acknowledge relief from the pain.
Sundays often brought a Mormon blessing. It was Jack’s favourite
time and the actual blessing made him so emotional from the
beauty of the words and the feelings evoked. He was always
very weepy and happy after that. There was a niggling feeling
in me though – not about the blessing, but the content.
Jack was being given blessings that were always along the lines of….
‘You’ll get better. In about a year you’ll be totally well. The cancer
has stopped growing. It’s not getting any bigger. You aren’t getting
any worse. You’ve turned a corner, and from now on you are just
Now I’m all FOR being positive. But it just didn’t ring true. And in
his system it created a new problem. It went against everything
his body was actually doing. So his questioning at the end of
treatment took on a new urgency. ‘How much longer is this
going to take – I’m supposed to be getting better. Six months?
Do you think it will take that long?’
(Not from where I was sitting)
I had my own problem with this too. If I thought that he was getting
worse, would he? I didn’t want to be pointing the bone at him.
He’s dying and that’s that – I didn’t want to have that in my mind
either. It’s hard to put all that stuff aside at times and just do
what you’re there to do.
In June, Jack had some people come for him to teach them about
his pet subjects. The financial world and being a sovereign person.
They were young and vibrant and into health in a big way. They got
him out of the ‘not being able to eat’ rut that he was in, and by the
time they left after a week, he was eating better than he had for months.
He looked better and had more energy – it was a real revival.
His system felt different. For a few weeks I wondered if he could
really be turning this around. The harmony was still there, but
there was something else that I couldn’t grasp. It was like I was
putting my hands on a totally different person.
After that I got the flu and didn’t go to treat him for about a week.
When I went back, he was on oxygen. Jill had taken him for a
check-up at the hospital and his lung capacity was tested. I had
been working on that for a long time during treatment. It felt to
me that he had less than half his normal lung capacity. At least
having oxygen at home gave him more relief from the chest pain
and slightly more energy.
Jack’s painful right thigh finally had a gigantic release. It took
me by such surprise that I nearly fell off the poof. It was so BIG
and ‘mechanical’ and violent and visual, I thought I must be
making it up. Like something out of an Alien movie. He slept
through the whole thing. I integrated and settled the area for
a long time, not just for Jack, but for my benefit too.
After he finally woke I asked him how his thigh felt. ‘Just the same.’
I couldn’t believe it. The next morning when I arrived Jill was very
excited. ‘Jack’s leg’s all better!!!!’
‘He used this new cream I found and after he rubbed it in the
pain totally went!’
‘Oh… good, that’s great….’
That pain never came back. But there were new ones. Chest and
shoulders. Agony for Jack. Mostly I was settling this pain. I admit
I sometimes had the doctors’ voices in the back of my mind.
‘The two tumours are growing together and one day without
warning they will just rupture the pulmonary artery and he will
bleed to death in minutes – there’s nothing you can do’.
I imagined I could feel this death-grip already. The thought
of encouraging big releases around that area was a little scary.
I’d already made a pact with his body for him not to die while I
was treating him. John suggested this and I set that agreement
up almost at the beginning. There had been one release in
particular that gave me a hell of a fright. I could taste blood in
my mouth and my hands felt that they were completely awash
in blood – that viscous, dark fluid up to my elbows. Shit, it’s
happened! I opened my eyes expecting blood to be pouring out
of this nose and mouth. Nothing – he slept like a baby.
Another discussion at the next Resource Day helped me through
this. Re affirm your agreement – do not die while I’m treating you.
Don’t be afraid of encouraging releases. Don’t just ‘settle’.
Treat what you find.
His heart is what I found next. It felt like it was breaking – and I told him so.
‘How’s it going… what can you feel?’
‘Well, there’s something that I can feel – I don’t understand what
it means, but you might.’
‘This might sound strange, but it feels as though your heart is breaking.’
‘That’s the only way I can explain it… breaking, incredible sadness.’
‘Oh……. that’s funny…..’
Normally I would never say such a thing – but I had to. It was
so strong. It felt like ‘breaking’ in the sense of both physically,
and in the old black and white movie scenario.
It was so overwhelming I cried all the way home. Even
remembering it makes me teary now. Such sadness.
It made total sense – he had a whole family estranged from him.
He had a loveless life. Personal tragedy under all that biblical
In July Jack was declining. He was still attempting the food thing
to keep up his strength for when he got well, but he was not
moving around the house any more. The long oxygen tube was
like his umbilical cord. It was long enough to go to the lounge
and the bathroom. He hadn’t gone any further for weeks and
he was looking more skeletal.
Jill needed to have a day off. I agreed to take the afternoon shift,
give him a treatment and stay until she returned home. There
was a great chair in the lounge. Jill had bought it especially for
Jack when he became ill. Big, comfy, laid back, foot rest. He
never used it. Refused totally to sit in it. Said it was uncomfortable.
After lunch in the lounge, I asked if he was ready for his treatment.
‘Yes, but I don’t want to walk to the bedroom.’
‘Okay, you can stay on the lounge and I can treat you there.’
‘No, I want to sit in the chair.’
The chair was great. Easy access for me – more comfortable.
Higher than his bed. I wished he’d been sitting there for months.
He lay back, feet up, and asleep in seconds.
I assumed my newly comfortable position, still on the poof, but
much easier. Hands under his freezing cold ankles. The usual
scanning, the usual ‘stilling’ thing. My hands and his body had
a great thing going. It was instant. As soon as I had my hands
in place it felt like I was almost obsolete. My hands could feel
him even before I got into the house.
As per the last few treatments I was drawn to his chest area.
His heart was in my intention. The television was on in the
background. He was missing his favourite show. Columbo –
can you believe it? Every day at 1pm after lunch. My peripheral
hearing was listening to that naive way the Columbo character
has of asking questions and I was thinking about therapeutic
enquiry. Then the crooked finger brought me back.
(Sorry, I was listening to the TV.)
I gave up on Columbo and went deep to where I needed to be.
A monstrously big heart came out of Jack’s chest – another Alien moment.
It was huge and fleshy and maroon. And it was ripping right
down the middle. Flesh tearing. I opened my eyes. Jack was
sleeping. The oxygen tube had slipped a little and was feeding
only one nostril, making a slight hissing sound. His chest was
heaving up and down with the effort of breathing. He was alive.
I glanced at the clock.
Holding against this heart-ripping restriction was taking all my
strength. My right hand has getting painful. It felt like it was
taking forever. Totally in two now, the heart jerked up into the
air and then fluttered back into the chest cavity like a feather.
I opened my eyes.
Jack was looking directly at me. That was a shock in itself.
‘My God, that was better than sex!’ he said as the oxygen tube
fell down around his chin.
I wanted to laugh out loud, but restrained myself to a smile.
I wondered if he remembered how sex felt after all that time
and guessed it was like riding the proverbial bike.
‘Did you feel that?’ he asked.
‘That was incredible!’
I had a short trip to make – another two days without seeing Jack.
When I returned he was in the Palliative Care Unit. Jill had lost it
and had him taken there for his, as well as her sake. I hated the
idea of visiting him in hospital. Hospitals make me nervous.
I talked to John – as always he said the right thing and I got
there feeling okay.
They’d put a drain in his right lung. The bag had been filled and
emptied numerous times in less than a day. A bad sign to say
the least. The fluid was very pink, indicating the cancer was
damaging blood vessels. Just not THE blood vessel. Yet. Jack
was beside himself. He wanted to get home. Now.
I could see that Jill was doing everything possible for that not to
happen. She needed him to stay there. The second night I arrived
after dinner and he was alone.
‘Is Jill here?’
‘Has she gone home?’
‘Don’t know, don’t care.’
He was so grumpy. A nurse came in to check what he’d eaten
and he told her to fuck off. She did.
‘Do you want a treatment?’
‘I don’t care.’
Just then Jill came in. She had that brittle, hard quality of someone
trying to be happy and light. Jack told her to get fucked which
triggered a fast and furious battle, with me sitting in the middle,
invisible. There was a lot of fucks and fuck you’s and it ended
with Jill walking out and slamming the door. It happened so
quickly there had been no time for me to excuse myself.
‘Okay, so do you want me to go too?’
There were tears after that – his. He felt dreadful. On every level.
He kept telling me what a good woman Jill was. The usual remorse
after harsh scenes between them. He wanted a treatment and I
sat on the end of his bed with his ankles in my hands. His system
felt better than it had for ages. Cranio is full of surprises.
The promised ‘day’ in hospital turned into five. Jack was livid,
but he also looked fantastic. He was well rested and well looked
after. He was in a smoke-free, Jill-free environment. His lungs
were drained, his breathing easier. His face had plumped out a
bit from the saline drip, so he’d lost that haggard look. He’d had
his hair washed and I told him that despite the fact that he hated
hospital, he looked beautiful and more rested and ‘well’ than he
had in months. The Palliative Care Unit was actually very nice.
It was peaceful too, unlike his bedroom which fronted a main road.
Noisy as hell.
I’d suggested months ago to Jill that she might like to get in touch
with Jack’s sons seeing as he didn’t have it in him to make the first
contact. I gathered from talking to him about it, that his pride was
the main thing keeping them apart now.
The only son living in Australia wanted to come and see him and
that visit also happened while he was in hospital. It was wonderful
for Jack. He glowed after that. Jill was back in the good books.
His son stayed until Jack was back home and promised to come
and see him again soon. By the time me was released from hospital,
Jack had the drain in his right lung and a catheter to drain urine.
Two tubes and bags that had to stay with him. His bladder hadn’t
been working properly for weeks. It also meant nurses visiting
So, seeing him at home now had the ‘feel’ of hospital. His room
had been transformed. The hospital had organised all the
equipment. A proper hospital bed that made daily nursing
easier and all the other stuff that makes life better when you
can’t get out of bed. The air bed mattress was freaky for me.
The air moves all over constantly, giving a massage-like feel.
It took a few days for me to adjust to the movement – is that
me, Jack or the airbed?
The day care nurses arrived around 10am each day to attend
to the drain and catheter and washing etc etc… There was one
main thing left that needed attention. The Mormon blessing.
I felt that the blessings lately had been adding to Jack’s grief,
not giving him the relief and peace of mind that they used to.
I spoke to Jill about this. She had been having the same thought
for a while. As a non-practising Mormon she understood what
he needed next. A blessing with an ‘out’ clause.
For a while, some weeks, there had been a change in my overall
treatments. When I treat people, I kind of ‘see’ them, next to me.
Their whole body is quite close to mine but my hands seem to
go right under them the whole length. Hard to explain this picture,
anyway, lately Jack hadn’t been so close to me. He was getting
further away. So, when I treated him, he was harder to reach.
During treatment he would get a little closer, but the next time
he was even further away. Little by little he seemed to be leaving.
There was also the angel’s wing. As Jack moved further away,
he seemed to be enveloped in something. Light, gossamer,
feathery. It was an incredibly beautiful scenario, and even
though it disturbed me at some level, it was so esoteric and
real that I could not question it or even discuss it. He left this
gossamer-like bed to allow me to treat him, and then he
moved back as I was settling his system.
Jill spoke to the bishop. Finally, his blessing was one along
the lines of ‘thy will be done’. That whatever happens is God’s
will, which is good. What a relief.
Mid-August brought more changes along with the angel’s wing.
Jack’s body felt wet and it was always curling inwards during
treatment. It was another out-of-the-blue change. My treatments
were mostly after dinner now. Jack liked to have a treatment
and then go to sleep for the night. One night as I was driving
home it hit me – embryonic. That’s what it was. It felt like his
body was an embryo.
That ‘distance’ and ’embryonic curling’ continued. The new
blessing gave Jack’s system more harmony. He had been feeling
like a failure because he had been previously told that the cancer
had stopped growing and that he was getting better. Saturday
and Sunday, the 21st and 22nd of August, both those days he
was talking to me differently. His ‘I’m getting better’ conversation
He told me that he could not fight any more. He was spent.
We spoke for a very long time each day about his wishes.
His thanks. His love. Promises. All the time, his system still
felt the same as it always had. Harmonious. I had been giving
him a foot massage every now and then. After his ‘all I want is
a hug’ statement, I realised that I could do more than just cranio.
He loved the foot massages. His feet were like ice from having
such poor circulation. Never enough oxygen. After a foot
massage he used to say how spoilt he felt. Ialways hugged
him too when I was arriving and leaving. I know how much
that simple act of physical touch meant to him as well as the
benefit of having treatments.
A thousand distractions had come between me and ‘treating Jack’
since February. The biggest one that I was finding hard to ignore
was a trip that would take me away for 8 to 10 weeks. Both Jack
and Jill told me it was okay, that I should go. At one point I wanted
to go, just bolt. I didn’t want to go through this. The hassle, the
drive to their house, their dark and dingy home, his Y- fronts,
the revolting bedroom wallpaper, their relationship, her cigarette
smoke, his spit bucket.
I wanted to run. But at the same time, there had been something
built in his mind. And her mind. I had been welcomed into their
lives and into their home, no matter how humble. They both
depended on me for very different reasons. She needed me to
visit and talk. He needed me to treat him and talk.
He was there when I woke up in the morning. My hands could
feel him even when I wasn’t there. When Jack had been in the
Palliative Care Unit it had happened. Just a moment between us.
I opened my eyes at the end of treating him. He was just looking
at me. No words. I knew then that I would stay for however long
it took. I told him that I wasn’t going away. He smiled and just
When I left Jill on the Sunday night (the 22nd of August), I
told her to call me anytime. Day or night. Not to hesitate.
Next morning the phone rang. Early, still dark. I couldn’t
understand a word she was saying, she was sobbing
uncontrollably. ‘I’ll be there in ten minutes.’
I thought he had died from the sound she was making, but
when I arrived he was sitting up and breathing. But things
were different. There was almost complete silence. There was
no oxygen tube and no sound of the oxygen machine humming
and thumping every two seconds. The vibrating noise of the
airbed machine was gone – it was turned off. The silence was
eerie. He was reading his bible. She was in the kitchen on the
telephone to the hospital.
‘What’s going on?’
‘I’m dying… I can’t do this any more. I just want to die. I told
you that yesterday. I want to go now.’
‘Okay…. what can I do? Is there anything you need?’
‘No, just let me go.’
‘I’m here for you. If that’s what you want, that’s okay.’
‘I want to stay here.’
‘I know … I’ll make sure that you stay here. I know you don’t
want to go to the hospital.’
‘Good … don’t let her send me there.’
‘Do you want me to massage your feet?’
He shook his head, no. Already, his toenails were blue and
his ankles ballooned with fluid.
They had obviously had a big night. Harrowing for her, resolution
and more peace for him. But there was a genuine affection
between them. They’d been through the photo albums and said
all they needed to say to each other. He’d refused all pain
medication for the last 2 days and now he couldn’t keep any
pills down. I made some phone calls to the hospital for Jill.
She couldn’t speak coherently anymore without sobbing.
They needed to organise intravenous injections for Jack as
the pain was too hard for him to bear. That took hours.
During that time I parked myself out of the way between his
bed and the window. Sitting on a chair monitoring and treating
him with my hand on his arm. Every now and then he’d doze
and I supported his head with my other hand. His system felt
faint. But very peaceful. The pain ran through his body like an
electrical current. It went in waves, spasms. Like birth, I thought.
Yes, it felt just like birth. Every now and then he’d wake.
‘Shit, I’m still here…. I just want to go.
Where are those bloody nurses. I need that injection.’
He was adamant about getting that pain-killing injection.
He needed it badly. Sometimes, as we sat there, with Jill coming
and going and the rest of the buzz in the house (Jill’s daughter
had arrived to help her call funeralhomes etc etc), it felt like he
and I were in a vacuum. Protected from the roar of the traffic
outside, the wailing of Jill as she’d come and give him a hug,
making him squirm and get momentarily agitated, the constant
ringing of the telephone….
I kissed his forehead as he dozed. Re-negotiated one promise
I’d made the previous night…
‘I have to take back one promise.’
‘I can’t promise to read the Book of Mormon that you gave me.’
‘I’ll have a look at it, but I can’t promise to read the whole thing.’
‘I love you…’
‘I love you too…’
There was a moment too, when I re-negotiated our deal
– or thought I did. The one about not dying while I was treating
him. At that point, I was prepared to do whatever it took to
make his transition easier. To help his dying in any way.
If that meant staying with him all the way, I would.
Every now and then he would stop breathing. His breathing was
shallow and laboured without the oxygen anyway, but when it
stopped it was a hell
of a shock. I would just open my eyes and look at him. Then he
would breathe again. Back to our pattern. Getting through the
The nurses arrived in a flurry. Invading the quiet space that we’d created.
‘We’ll just get his injection ready, can you go outside for a minute?’
I was so glad to have a loo break and stretch my limbs. They
were frozen after hours in the same place. Jill and I were sitting
at the kitchen table when the nurse came in a few minutes later.
‘You’d better come in. We’ve given him the injection, and his
breathing’s changed. There’s not long….’
We both raced in quickly. Jill went round and sat on the chair
by the bed. I stood on the other side of him. He was barely
breathing. The spasms had ceased though. He was obviously
Time seemed to stop between those last few breaths. When
Jack’s breathing finally didn’t start again it was surreal. He was gone.
And he’d kept his side of the bargain, despite my attempt at
re negotiation. After a few minutes I put my hand on his arm.
I expected to feel his presence in the room still. But no, this was
a man in a hurry. He’d made his peace with everything that
mattered on the earth. The day before, his brother and half-sister
had visited in the morning. Years of hatred, bitterness and
silence had disappeared during that visit. Making peace also
with one of his sons had been enough.
The room filled with noise again. The traffic, the birds, the
slamming of a door, the nurses busying themselves and packing
up the hospital things. And life goes on.
Hours later, before the funeral home guys took him away,
I went in to sit with him. There was not a hint of him still in the
room, something I have felt once before when a close friend died.
Just his body. Empty. It was a good, clean, peaceful death.
What did I learn most? There are lots of things – all important.
But the thing that stands out most clearly is – stillness. It’s what
Jack demanded of me the most. It’s what I needed to find the
most of. And it’s what he wanted the most in the final hours.
It’s also what all the people I treat want, but I didn’t get that
so much before.
One thing I wasn’t prepared for was how my hands felt. They
have become separate entities, with a life of their own. My hands
still miss Jack. I do too, but they miss him more, and they remind
me of that every day. Another thing is the amount of meditation
I have to do now to keep at that ‘level’ with my other treatments.
Seeing Jack every day got me to a point where I could go deep,
quickly. Now I have to work at that again.
Also, there’s the ‘life or death switch’…..
But that’s another story.
During the week after the funeral, I was talking with Jill.
She was going on about how quickly he had died. (I didn’t
feel that it was sudden at all.) I asked her what was happening
in their lives 12 years ago. She had to think a while before she
‘Twelve years ago… hmmm… we got married. And Jack
suddenly stopped smoking. That’s about all I remember……’