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Marianne Kupina spends time with her husband, Andrew McCarthy, a resident at Kensington Hospice. (Peter Power/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)
Marianne Kupina spends time with her husband, Andrew McCarthy, a resident at Kensington Hospice. (Peter Power/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

The long farewell: a wife's journal Add to ...

Feb. 17

The increased pain meds and sedatives (now administered continuously via a pump) have put him comfortably at rest. The doctors had warned me that doing so might also mean that he wouldn’t wake up again. But that was going to happen at some point and it was more important for him to be peaceful. I simply couldn’t watch him in that terrified state any longer.

Our friend Paul arrived with Burrito Boyz for lunch … a nice change of pace after grilled cheese.

Feb. 18

The “death rattle” started today. I had been advised that because his ability to swallow was impaired, the accumulation of saliva in his throat would cause his breathing to resemble that of a rattle. While I knew he wasn’t in any pain, the noise was incredibly disturbing.

Around 6 p.m., the nursing team came in to change his bed sore dressing. It had gotten so incredibly bad that I couldn’t bear to look at it any longer, so I left and joined my family in the hospice great room, who had popped in on their way back from a function in the city. A few minutes later, one of the nurses came upstairs. My heart was in my throat. She said that Andrew was awake but unresponsive and that it might be a good idea to come back to the room. I flew down the stairs and thought this was it, as his respirations had slowed considerably. My friend Trish, my sister and my mother joined me in the room. Trish played Gabriel’s Oboe from her iPod and then sang all the hymns we had chosen for the funeral mass. I held his hand and put my other hand on his heart and read God’s Garden. But he wasn’t ready to leave us. After about an hour (but what seemed like an eternity), his respirations climbed back up again.

At that point, we sent my brother-in-law, the kids and my mother home. But as they were leaving, my sister said that Matthew wanted to see his uncle. I had told Annie that I didn’t want the kids seeing him like this, but Matthew was so brave that I took his hand and brought him into the room. He told him that he loved him and thanked him for being such an amazing uncle. I was so proud of him for doing that – I know he was more than a little bit afraid.

Bill and his wife Jeanne flew back from Florida late that night and came directly from the airport to the hospice. Although Andrew was asleep, I believe he was aware that Bill had come and spoken to him. I was so happy that we had been able to fulfill these last requests before he died.

Feb. 19

Annie and Trish woke me at 8 a.m. to say that the nurses felt he was close to dying because his respirations had declined again. But by noon, his respirations were back up. While I knew that the nurses really had no way of knowing for sure, the emotional rollercoaster I was on was taking its toll.

Feb. 20

My friend Lorraine dropped by with Starbucks for us a bit before noon. We had been sitting in the room quietly talking and reminiscing for some time when I got a sense that something was different, despite the fact that his breathing hadn’t changed. I jumped out of my chair, ran to his side, put one hand on his heart and kissed him as he took his last breath. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that the light on the humidifier clicked off at that exact moment.

I arranged to have the procession a few hours later. When we came back, pretty much the entire hospice team was there, as well as Cynthia and Doug who’d received my e-mail about Andrew and had rushed down to the hospice so they could join the procession. (I had been part of the procession when their mother Gini died last October.) I was so incredibly touched by this outpouring of love and friendship; I know that Andrew would have been so proud.

The sun had been shining that day and one of his friends commented how it was “remarkable he passed away on such a beautiful day … a sign we are to remember him for the brightness and goodness of his spirit.” Another commented, “I remember thinking to myself how spectacular and somehow special the sunset was driving home from the cottage yesterday – I now understand.”

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