Gregory, a very dear old friend, died today, just a few minutes after noon. Diagnosed 12 years ago with early onset Alzheimers, this centered, gifted, and creative man has slowly lost the smooth and easy functioning of his graceful body, mind, and language, all the while sustaining his calm and gentle and awesome spirit. I received a call Thursday from Michael, his partner of 40 years, that Gregory was ill and then on Friday learned that he was literally dying. Michael and Gregory decided years ago that if Gregory were to get seriously ill, there would be a DNR (Do not Resuscitate)—no IV, no antibiotics.
At school on Friday, just after I learned of Gregory’s status, I was obviously very distracted. I had one more class to go and I was impatient with the students. It seemed as if they were asking too many questions and needed a lot more coaxing and pushing than my reserves were able to sustain. I rushed from school, picked up my husband, and went to see Gregory at the nursing facility he has been at for the last two years. He was quiet, some rasping, oxygen tube in his nose. Hospice had made him as comfortable as possible. He was sleeping. We all slowed down. Rubbing his arms, talking to him, feeling sad, we sat with him and said our tearful goodbyes.
Saturday he had a breathing cup over his nose and mouth to give some moisture to his throat, which was dry and causing him to cough. A little morphine under his tongue also relieved the coughing. After a half an hour it was taken off. We had another opportunity to visit, another opportunity to say goodbye. It struck me that the model of living Gregory had been all his life, he was now demonstrating with his death— slowly deliberate, patiently intent, exquisitely graceful, and calm.
Today we arrived only moments after he had died. His body was still warm. I realized that over these past few days, Gregory had made sacred space for us all to dip into. Gregory pulled us here and held us close. His slow dying allowed everyone to find the time to come and say their goodbyes. It allowed us to learn to not be afraid. It allowed us to open ourselves to the impermanence of the universe. To touch someone you love, as they are moving from one realm to the next, is excruciating yet beautiful, full of sorrow yet full of awe, nearly unbearable yet wholly bearable. A sacred space, indeed. Such a graceful and hallowed departing.
Over the years my friend Gregory has given me many gifts, but his dying may be the most profound—patiently unwinding, organically reorganizing, slowly deliberate, he has transitioned to the next place/non-place. Gregory, I am forever grateful.