A Life Measured in Days

So I'm on my cell phone in the car and the sunlit fields are slipping by.

"Listen to Jack's breathing," my wife says from a hospice somewhere in the midst of a gray day in Canada, a few hours removed from here.

I hear a labored murmuring, a hint of a death rattle perhaps.

"They say he has just days."

"Yes." There's not much I can say because it seems far removed from reality. The last time I saw Jack was a couple of years ago. He was clutching his tennis racket and asking me where the nearest tennis court was.

Now he can't even clutch the sides of the bed. He's lost the power of speech and is as gray as the Canadian winter.

At such times I think of The Hollow Men by T.S. Eliot. "Shape without form, shade without color, Paralyzed force, gesture without motion."

But there's motion here and not just the lurch of the car. There are birds that swoop across the wide fields in giddy celebration of the oncoming spring, there's a jauntiness in the hedgerows and a stirring in the trees. There are children on the swings; they laugh and go up and down mimicking the parabola of life. There are days ahead of lengthening nights and warm evenings by the sea. The buds will soon be leaping up on the branches if the warm weather holds.

I doubt if Jack will see the sun again.

And removed from its heat they shift in the shadows and pick over what's left, unable to feel it degrading to dust in their hands.

A day ago his girlfriend arrived. She blocked the nurse trying to give him morphine and tried to take him out of there.

"We go home, we go to the casino," she said to eyes that reflected back the space they stared at.

They staged an emergency meeting; they barred her for a day. They said she was crazy.

But I can understand denial in the presence of death that turns black to white and white to black.

He said he'd beat it, but we all knew it was rhetoric as hollow as Eliot's bleak verse.

And in no time at all life is no longer measured in seasons, or even months but tiny, mean days.


  1. This is a moving post, David. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your wife and Jack's family. It's very difficult to stand around waiting for someone to die. Life goes into a kind of strange limbo for a while and everything seems a bit surreal.

    Beautiful photo!

  2. I am so sorry for your friend, David. This post breaks my heart. In some ways I do understand his girlfriend though. I'm sure anyone would much rather be at home, with only days to live, rather than stuck in a hospital. I know that would be my wish...

  3. This is a situation that a lot of people can relate to but not to many people can write about it as honestly or as well as you have.

  4. Well, big breath, I just went through the hospice ordeal, and this perfectly captures a lot of the things that were going on in my head, still are. I never could have written should eloquent words-helluva job. You're all in my thoughts and prayers.

  5. Thanks Daisy, it is distressing because we all (including me) try to blank out the reality of dying. I just hope my father-in-law passes soon. Thanks Jennifer, sorry to be a downer, normal service will be resumed soon. You are too kind Frog. Cheers Tim and I know exactly what you went through mate, although it would be even more harrowing if it was my own parents.


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