I’d never watched a person die before - let alone someone I absolutely adored.
My grandma on my mom’s side died a little over a year ago. She was in poor health and my parents, aunts, and uncles were under a lot of stress doing their best to care for her. I was able to spend an afternoon with her - an afternoon that I knew would be our last time together - and it was as good as it could be. I cried like a baby when I left, but I had peace and wanted her suffering to end.
My mom and aunt were with her when she finally breathed her last. My mom described those last moments to me; how my grandma’s breathing was staggered…how my mom and aunt would keep track of her breaths by counting the seconds in between. And the peace and relief they felt when her final breath was breathed, when her suffering was finally no more.
A few months later, my grandfather on my dad’s side fell and broke his hip. He’d fallen before and been okay, so we didn’t think this fall was any different.
But it was SO different. He wasn’t bouncing back from this one.
Over several days he got progressively worse and the decision was made to put him in hospice care. Brad and I got in the car to head to Orlando as soon as we could. It was a drive I had absolutely no desire to make - not because I didn’t want to see him or be with him - but because I was still grieving the loss of my grandma and was completely uninterested in another final goodbye, in a life without my grandpa.
We got to the hospice center as quickly as we could. When we arrived, the staff hadn’t quite finished moving him, so we joined our family in the waiting room.
Finally, the room was ready and we made our way down the hall. I remember silently gearing myself up to put a smile on my face and greet my grandpa the way he always greeted me - with a larger than life joy and excitement. So I walked into the room with as joyful a hello as I could muster, awaiting his as-joyful-as-he-could-muster reply. But there wasn’t one. There wasn’t any response.
I took his hand, thinking maybe he would squeeze to let me know he was there. He didn’t squeeze. I tried talking to him and telling stories, thinking maybe his eyes or lips would twitch, letting me know he was listening. But both remained still. And so I just waited, hoping that he would wake up eventually. Suddenly and desperately wanting the final goodbye I dreaded. Hoping I wasn’t too late.
And then I noticed his breathing. It was staggered and labored and difficult. It reminded me of what my mom described with my grandmother a few months earlier. So I decided to do what my mom had done. I started to count.
One, two, three, BREATH.
One, two, three, BREATH.
A few minutes later I could count to four between breaths. And then five. And then seven. Each breath was a struggle, and over the hour or two that followed,
the count steadily grew higher.
I realized I was too late.
I realized I was about to watch my grandpa die.
We sat by his bedside as a family, bracing ourselves for what was now obvious and inevitable. We noticed his color begin to change. My grandmother asked why we were crying. She realized what was happening and joined our sobs. I’d never seen my grandma, uncle, or dad cry before - but there we were, a room full of rushing tears.
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten...twenty....twenty-six, BREATH.
We called the hospice nurse.
About 30 seconds after he breathed his last, his heart stopped beating.
I’ll never forget how I felt in that one moment - when “is” became “was”. How literally one last breath, one last moment, had the power to change the tense we used. “He is a great man” became “He was a great man” and I hated that change with every ounce of my being. Because I wasn’t ready yet. Because just a few moments earlier, he was a part of my present. And just like that, he was a part of my past.
It’s a change I don’t think I’ll ever get over.
That night, that experience, was a game-changer. I don’t think I’ve recovered. I don’t know that I will. And I don’t know that I’m supposed to. In those last moments, all I wanted one last lesson - one last pep talk, one last tidbit of wisdom. What I’ve come to realize is that those last labored breaths were my lesson in disguise. Because in all the pain and loss and grief this past year brought, I can’t help but notice now that
I am breathing.
Scripture talks about God breathing life into creation. The very pronunciation of the name, Yahweh, reflects breath. When we breath, we live a God-breathed life. As I watched my grandpa breathe his last, it made me think of all the breaths, all the inspiring, selfless, and often unnoticed moments that made up his nearly 91 years.
And it makes me think of all my breaths, all the moments that make up my nearly 30 years. I don’t know when my last will come, but until then, I know I want each one to count. To matter. To be worth it.
Because here is what I realize now:
If I am breathing in, I am certain there is purpose to it.
Breath is not meant to be wasted.
And so even an unnoticed breath is a gift.
The latin phrase, “Dum spiro spero” means, “While I breathe, I hope.” And while I am still breathing, I hope to live that out in more ways than one and to not take my breath for granted.
While I breathe, I hope to focus on things that matter.
While I breathe, I hope to love.
While I breathe, I hope to trust.
While I breathe, I hope to inspire.
While I breathe, I hope to be faithful.
While I breathe, I hope to be generous.
While I breathe, I hope to be brave.
While I breathe, I hope to be gracious.
And while I breathe, I hope every breath points to Jesus.
Let’s make it count.