Recently, I had the fortune of being by my uncle’s side and supporting my aunt who was caring for him during the last 48 hours of his life and this is what I wrote:

Witnessing the Art of Dying

“Je veux mourir à la maison” he had decided. And so dying at home it would be. After all, he was a man who precisely calculated everything and he lived this way intentionally. The kind of wealth he had doesn’t come from rushing through things blindly. I am referring to the wealth of love, respect, and dignity, that one only earns from being so giving.

Ironically, “Hourglass” was the title of the song that was playing right before his ending: a beautiful cello composition that encapsulated his graceful state of being. The lake still frozen and the clear sky lit up by the moon, filled those last two nights with a silent and peaceful solitude. We stayed awake since we knew he would be leaving us soon, and because every one of his last moments was to be held with gratitude.

As he lay there dying, audibly labouring each breath, he was just waiting. And we sat there by his side, holding the space of tranquility, hoping to assist him in this process of surrendering. The sun would rise and we would pull up the blinds and say: “Il s’est rendu au matin”. My aunt would ask the nurse to stay until the 6 AM morphine, and then we would brew some coffee and go back to our quiet sitting.

There were times when I would close my eyes next to him, meditating. Embodying the serenity that he himself had set up the conditions for in his waking. Other times, I would focus on his breath, his transforming being, seeking to understand what was objectively happening. I also found myself reciting mantras in my head to remind myself of my own mortality, while wondering what was this cancer that inhabited his physical body.

What I could hear, but he was not saying, was his voice in response to us caring: “Ok, chère”, “Merci, chère”, “T’es bein fine, chère”. All of sudden, the term “chère”, dear, rung loudly in my memory and with a whole new meaning. It was not just a term of endearment, but one that he always spoke with softness, respect, and authenticity. And to his wife, I could hear him saying “Je t’aime Bé”, “Merci, Bé”, “Je vais n’ennuyer de toi, Bébé”. It’s this love that he shared with his wife wholeheartedly that I mostly had the gift of witnessing.

He opened his eyes on his day before last and asked “Y’ai quelle heure?” “10 H”, my aunt replied. “Avant-midi?”, “oui”. He was awake for that moment and maybe for no reason but to see it drift into its past. It’s likely, that in his state of vulnerability, he was accepting, and facing his death with humility. He had said everything he had to say in preparation for his passing. And so, when he went, he went peacefully.

And therein lies the art of dying. He had mastered it by having learned the art of living.

Katherine Marr