PIPPIN: I didn’t think it would end this way.
GANDALF: End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.
PIPPIN: What? Gandalf? See what?
GANDALF: White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.
PIPPIN: Well, that isn’t so bad.
GANDALF: No. No, it isn’t.
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
Genevieve struggled with dying. Even though she was mostly comatose, her family gathered all around her, she struggled to let go. As the lone nurse covering the hospice house that evening, I did everything I could to make her comfortable.
Her breaths came in irregular spurts and fits. She would stop breathing altogether for almost a minute at a time, so long that her family would start to grieve her passing, and then once again she would drag in a huge ragged breath and start the process all over again.
They even voiced their love, their permission for her to let go, to “go home”, and whispered reassurances that they would see her again one day. This went on for nearly an hour.
There must have been twenty family members crowded into that room. I could see the wear and tear on their tear-stained faces as they watched their matriarch soldier on and then falter, time and again.
Then someone started singing. One clear voice among the crowd.
“Amazing grace…how sweet, the sound…”
The singer was slightly off key, as were many of the others who joined in the chorus, but together it was the most beautiful song that could have been sung. I stood back and watched as Genevieve started to relax. Her breathing became easier. Slower.
More and more voices joined in the song, and by the time they reached the last verse, all of her family members had their eyes turned toward heaven, but my eyes were on Genevieve.
She slipped away during those last few lines and none of them realized it until the song was done. They had joined their hearts and voices, and sang Genevieve home.
I know this story sounds like it belongs in a bathroom copy of Reader’s Digest, a little too dramatic to be true, but I was there, and although Genevieve was not this patient’s real name, the events have been told exactly as they occurred.
I will never forget that moment, watching life turn to death and death turn to life. It was one of the most intimate moments I’ve ever been privileged enough to be a part of.