Some of the stages of dying start to be discernible a few months to a month before death occurs. That is when for many of us our journey into dying begins to become more apparent.
Some of us start feeling less active. We rest more. Doze more. Dream more. Feel more like withdrawing into our inner realms.
We eat less. Drink less. Participate less in life around us.
For some of us reliving our memories becomes more important than talking to our friends or loved ones. Especially the memories of our childhood. Our memories become a way to take stock of our lives and make our peace with it, if that is what is needed.
When I met Emma for the first time, she was sitting up in a hospital bed in the middle of her living room. She looked fragile and very soft. She kept talking more or less nonstop, though it was very hard to understand her. She was slurring her words. But she still had things to say.
There were bruises on her face, arms and legs from falling a number of times during the previous weeks. She had wanted to take care of her home, as she had done so for years. But she kept forgetting that she did not have the strength to walk by herself anymore. She would get up to go somewhere. Inevitably she would fall.
The Three Angels of Death
Falling (and breaking a hip or an arm) is sometimes one of the first signs that we are starting to move into the direction of death. It can be one of the stages of dying.
The other two angels who might visit us are a heart attack and pneumonia. All these are only angels of death if our bodies are already weakened and fragile. That makes full recovery for us harder or impossible.
When any one of these angels shows up, it is as we are being given a fair warning to get ready for our final journey. They are a good reminder to make sure that all our affairs are in order. So that we can leave this earth without heavy burdens or a sense of feeling incomplete.
These three angels are not to fear. That's why they are called angels. They can be our body's way of saying: my time is slowly coming to an end. These stages of dying are pointing us in the right direction. Sort of a sign post towards the final destination.
Here is how one of the the angels of death visited my father:
He had had three heart attacks and a hip replacement operation over the course of ten years. Life had become more of a challenge than a joy to him at the age of 77. He was talking about feeling tired. He was talking about being ready to move on.
A few months before he died, he told my sister: "If I should get pneumonia now, that will be my way to die."
Sure enough. One of the angels did visit him. He came down with pneumonia and he did die of it.
Emma was just not feeling that hungry anymore. When asked if she was hungry, she often would say: "Thank you, but not now." She ate a couple of teaspoons of food of every meal. Probably more to please us than that she herself wanted the food.
But she still liked her black tea with milk and sugar. Several cups of tea a day. These lifelong habits are hard to break.
Emma also spent more time in bed during the day. Often she would just be dozing for a while. Laying on her back. Her head propped up on her favorite soft down pillow.
She loved to listen to music. Strauss' waltzes. Mozart. Or she would hum some familiar tunes.
And she would be ready to go to sleep at around 9 PM, only waking up once or twice during the night to go to the bathroom. Arthur was such a help at night as Emma could not really walk anymore without someone propping her up.
Reduced Appetite and Increased Sleep
When our bodies are getting ready to embark on their final journey, they prepare us with a few different stages of dying. Kind of like sign posts for dying.
One of them is that we are not as hungry as we used to be. We don't need a lot of food. And it does not taste as good as it used to.
What a change. We are so used to a body needing food. Every day of our lives is broken up by three meals to be prepared, consumed and cleaned up.
We also tend to sleep more when we are getting closer. It is usually not a very deep sleep. More of a gentle dozing.
One way to understand this increase of sleep is to see it as way to practice visiting the other side. That which lies beyond death. Some call it Heaven. Some call it Nirvana. Some call it Going Home.
When we sleep less we need less energy, and thus less food. Just like a tree in winter runs less sap as there are no leaves to support. Or like a bear whose metabolism slows way down when she sleeps through the cold winter months.
Our bodies are quite wonderful in this respect. They even produce particular chemicals to help us feel good when we are not eating or drinking much. Like a mild euphoria helping us relax into these stages of dying. Into our final journey.
Emma spent the next few days crying a lot. A gentle soft crying. No heavy heaving and sobbing. More like a gentle spring rain washing everything clean.
She just needed to cry.
She liked it when someone would hold her hand. She did not want to be left alone. She actually got quite agitated when one of us left her alone to be in another part of the house. SO me made sure that someone was always with her. To comfort her.
It is not uncommon for emotions to come up as one of our stages of dying. Some of us feel depressed and withdrawn, turning inward: I am done with this world. Some of us need to release feelings of anger: I am angry that I will not see the birth of my first grand child. And some of us need to cry: I am finally able to let the tears flow I could not cry before.
As if we need to let go of excess baggage on this journey into death. The excess baggage of old emotions never felt. Of feelings never or rarely expressed. Of trauma held on to.
Sometimes it shows in our faces when we are complete. As if a curtain has been pulled aside. A curtain that had been covering up a part of ourselves. And clarity shows up in our faces. One that was not there before.