A Slow Walk to Death


I have a hospice client I’ve been visiting since March. She is on a slow walk to death. She is unhurried about the process in all ways. She is directing it. Never doubt that the one who is doing the business of dying has a say in the progress. Every person I’ve sat with has shown this to be true. Not a stop to it, mind you, but the final puff of breath doesn’t come without consent.

Each week there is a little less fat under her skin as her illnesses take from her more than she can manage to replenish. She gets chilled easily so she wears thick clothes, lap blankets, and fingerless gloves pulled halfway done her hands. I see the upper half of her fingers, and I see the bones more clearly each visit. This week her gloves were pushed back to her wrists.

It was like an anatomy lesson laid out in topographic relief across the backs of her hands. Almond and purple tissue paper skin creates the ground with raised blue roads running the length, winding around knuckle-boulders as tendons stretch taut between unnaturally long looking bones. As she drifted in and out of naps I looked at her hands, fascinated that they could be reduced to their base elements, yet still function to pick tiny bits of of fluff from her blanket, grab my hand and pull it to her lips to give a kiss, then entwine her fingers for our prayer before I leave.

The human body is an amazing thing, and it stays just as amazing during the final slide to the door that we all go through. Blessings to the hands, and all they have done, and all they continue to do, even as they waste away to resembling the model strung up on poles in physiology labs. Blessings to the hands of the dying, offering poignant visuals to become memories for those who will remain.

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