Decline and Fall, Watching a Loved One As They Reach The End

“I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die” has to be one of the most chilling lines in a popular song and, whilst many have sung it, it is the dulcet tones of Johnny Cash that deliver it best.

Death comes to us all for we all have but a short time here, and during that time we will encounter death along the way; as children we lose our pets and, perhaps older relatives and then as adults our parents and those of our partners so watching someone die is a reality we have to face.

Death may be inevitable, but it is the sort of thing that you don’t want to think about too much beyond taking out an insurance policy and making a will, both sensible steps to get taken early in your adult life if you can and then you can put morbid thoughts away until circumstances bring the grim reaper into your life.

When someone nears their end the bulk of the grief is with those close to them, for however much the outgoing body may not wish to depart, they are at peace in the end. For relatives and friends watching someone die is often a tough process, made worse the longer it takes. Whilst a sudden demise is a hard shock for all, it is the way most of us would prefer to a lingering one, and to watch a loved one go from the person you have known and loved to a shell of their former glory is a much harder process, especially when they cease to recognise who you are.

For those in the business of care they see this day in and day out, but they are not close to the patient which allows the element of detachment that helps them come through it for they are professionals.

For me it has been a different experience here on the ward to watch someone else’s decline and fall. I am no stranger to death; at 13 I had seen a violent end at point blank range and a five day dead corpse (both human) and have witnessed the last moments of a handful of relatives and strangers since. I can only feel sorrow for the people close to those that have died for they have to live with their loss.

I am writing this following the demise yesterday of one of my crew here in our ward.  He faded suddenly, arose like Lazarus after his wife had been called in to expect the end, but then slid into the arms of the man with the scythe within a day and a half. He had given up the fight and his end removed him from the pain and general misery that he was in, and his widow understood that for his end was a relief more than a sadness.

He was one of the Moaners from an earlier tales in this series; a man just unhappy with all and sundry and tired of life. When he had first arrived I had talked to him a little for he had worked around aircraft and been part of campaigns that I have read of. He could have been an interesting companion on the ward had he not been so negative and (I have never subscribed to the adage of not speaking ill of the dead) often unpleasant to the doctors, nurses and his wife.

As I have said in one or two stories here it is behaviour such as he displayed that, at times, threatens my own humanity and self-control, but I look on it from a positive view that if I can be tested as much as I have been here recently and still come out in control then it is good for me.

This has been another rather dark story, but I have tried to articulate my thoughts on the basis that folks can feel very guilty about how they feel when death crosses their path. I am not a grief counsellor and have no intention to be one, but by opening up how I feel and sharing that perhaps it might help someone else realise that they are not alone if they are seeing things in the same way. We will all have to face up to it sooner or later, how we deal with it is our own choice.


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