Living With Dying articles

Signposts In Action : From Martha Jo's blog

By Leah Carey
Sept. 13, 2016

An excerpt from Martha Jo Atkin’s July 14, 2016 blog, as she accompanied her father Noble through his dying process. Her website is

Noble is itching a lot, something we attributed solely to medication until Linda pointed out that building toxins in the bloodstream cause itching, too. So much to learn.

When Dad offered a detached “Hi, Sweetie” several days ago, I realized he didn’t recognize me. This morning he smiled. Ever the polite gentleman, he nodded and said, “Hello, Ma’am.”

He has been eager to be out of bed. “Can we go now?” “Can I get up now?” One leg has regularly been over the side of the bed.

When he’s awake, his hands tremble. When the pace of tremors quickens, we know it’s time for the magic trifecta of calming balm: Benadryl, Ativan, Haldol. A nurse encouraged us not to put it on his arm without wearing a glove or we’d be napping right along with him.

I kissed his forehead and touched his arm when I arrived this morning. I could feel the heat rising from him and teared up.

The heat, the away-ness of his eyes, droop of his mouth, and open mouth breathing are all signs I recognize. Until today, I’ve seen him come back to present time when he opens his eyes. He’s slowly, slowly inhabiting a different place now.

His language has changed, too.

Monday night he said, “Unlock the door,” a common metaphor of the dying. Once the door is unlocked, more exploration happens.

Early this morning there were questions in rapid succession:

“The doors are open?”

“Is the door open, open, open?”

“Can you raise the floors?”

“How can we get out?”

“How do we pop it out?”

Much of the day he’s been reaching towards things the rest of us can’t see. Sometimes his eyes are open. Sometimes he smiles as he does it, pulling himself up off the bed. Sometimes his brow is furrowed as though he’s concentrating deeply.

He’s resting now. No pain meds have been needed for more than a week. He’s peaceful. He’s making his way.

He asked John tonight, “Can we undo this connection?”

Yes, Papa. As soon as you’re ready.

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