This is the introduction to a regular series of posts on witnessing death in the ICU after the withdrawal of mechanical ventilation.
When I was in seminary, I was a producer for our campus’ performance of The Vagina Monologues. I got to meet and workshop with the playright and activist, Eve Ensler (who probably didn’t know what to make of a seminarian putting on her show!)
One of her monologues has always stayed with me. “I Was There In The Room” is an account of her being present at the birth of a child and the majesty, pain and love that comes with the start of the life cycle.
We don’t always think of death as part of that same cycle. Rarely is it viewed as an opportunity to see beauty or derive meaning. If it is spoken about at all, it is in hushed tones.
As a chaplain, I’m often journeying with those experiencing the other end of that life cycle. In that room I have witnessed moments just as poignant and beautiful as birth.
The vignettes I will feature in this series are my attempt to give voice to the way the dying are celebrated, loved and treasured by their family and friends.
Each story is a snapshot of the rituals that occurred after a loved one was removed from a mechanical ventilator (a machine that artificially breathes for an individual who cannot breathe on their own).
In the moments between removing the machine and the patient’s last breath, families and friends are given a strange gift. They are given the opportunity to say goodbye and be present with their loved one as they pass from this world to the next.
What follows are hallowed moments of families grieving, laughing, crying, loving and memorializing. I carry their stories with me, stories too precious to be left untold.
I hope these stories both break and warm your heart as they did mine.