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“No, Liz, I’ve never heard a patient say that. Usually, they’re unconscious or subdued by drugs when that happens,” said the hospice nurse as she pulled a chair closer to mine in the study, filled with sunlight. I’d never shared this with anyone, and she seemed receptive, given her years of experience. Her round eyes reminded me of a toddler’s wonder tracking a Monarch butterfly by the seacoast.

“Indeed, I’m happy for you,” she said, still moved by my experience as she unzipped her bag and pulled from it what she would need. “Sounds like it wasn’t the first time. Tell me more.”

I nodded. “Last year I began noticing it at intervals—usually afternoons, during nap times. The whir of the concentrator for my oxygen gentled my eyes as they shut down.

“On the threshold of sleep, though, my body became something else: my arms immobile at my side, my legs slightly bent at my knees, my mind emptied of chatter. No sense data. No colors. Just bliss. Only rhythmic breathing in my chest evidenced life. As these episodes increased, the less time I had to wait for what I began calling, the sinking.”

“That’s fascinating,” she said after jotting information in her computer. “I’m always glad when asked to come by. I learn so much—Did anything else happen yesterday?”

“Yes, the sinking lasted over three hours, longer than ever before, and I found myself practicing going to heaven—I never did that before, but I’m still here.”

Still masked, I felt her smile as she blew me a hug and left.

From a recent response to a blog emerged this metaphor from my psyche:

Death is its own signature.

Its strangeness, almost a non-fit, perplexes me. Death’s pervading presence in all of life, whether the decay of a summer bouquet of daisies or the fading of that favorite sweater, precipitates uneasiness. Yet, death plays into the removal of undesirable character defects and the growth of self-restraint and discernment.

Another kind of death, though, has its own finality, the ultimate one we all have to face: the wrenching loss of ourselves, a significant other, or pet. Such rips apart illusions and plunges us into unwanted experiences of grief and rebuilding. Without spiritual help, warped perspectives confound the jettisoned pieces of what remain and worsen the psychic pain.

So how does the word signature play into all of this as my psyche wishes me to look into this. Contracts of all stripes, artistic works, and inventions bear binding signatures. Of critical importance are the signatures of the medical examiner or primary physician on death certificates. As yet, mine has not been filled out, only stipulated in my end-of-life care.

I, too, have signed many contracts with my signature and honored all but two: those that kept me in the convent and later, in the marriage; from both, I received a dispensation, again executed by my signature.

Still another contract looms ahead—that with Death from which there will be no reprieve—his signature will cast me into the unknown. The closer my last day approaches, the more I love my life, just as it is. Writing this blog weights my heart as another day passes. But then again, to be relieved of my symptoms and experience wholeness of a different kind—That also appeals…

This is my time to write. Opened in front of me is the blank screen of my word processor. I sit in silence, anticipating an inner movement, something to wrap words around.

That’s it—It’s about gratitude as I begin my third year of palliative care from hospice. Despite numerous blogs yearning for my transition, I’m still very much here, still filling my lessening free time with meaningful learning, with prayer for others, so much so that I’ve outgrown who I used to be. Former interests pale in insignificance.

Helping me in these endeavors are my eye sight, my mental faculties, and ability to write. More and more, I treasure my solitude in which deep listening occurs and new topics surface. There is still much I do not know. That’s a lot to say about someone, soon to be eighty-six years old.

Inspiration seems to breathe around me with each morning’s waking dreams, with the joy of my morning helpers, and the ever-changing views outside my study windows—Even the thinning leaves of my viburnum revealing more of the empty sparrow’s nest, with last summer’s single birth.

Not having a family of my own, I often wondered what my end time would look like; its experience, one day at a time, has enveloped me within a trackless realm, has challenged my deepening trust in God’s care, and has heightened my sensitivity to life’s nuances of setbacks and joys. My place in the human family is secure. And all this change, occurring within a split second, or so it seems.

So I’m grateful to Creator God, still fashioning the woman I’m destined to become. And grateful to my multiple helpers, including my guardian angel.

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