Her Dying Time | Finale

dawn by you.

Life kept on while death reigned in Olivia’s body. By the beginning of August, our circumstances at home seemed so intimate that they involved only us.

Some days, I had to battle feeling overwhelmed and terribly anxious about the process, for it was clear we were keeping a failing body alive against impossible odds. Though I had prayed for peace and a clear conscience months earlier, I found that I had neither by summer’s end, because I was terribly afraid. I was afraid of living in the limbo we were in. It seemed we were living before we knew Olivia was dying, and we expected to live again afterward; but while we waited for her to die, we were only waiting, not living.

cairns3 by you.Olivia took a turn for the worse on August 1 and was lethargic and often unresponsive, trailing off as she answered questions and unable to make eye contact. I anxiously sat at her bedside as she slept that day, counting her shallow breaths and measuring urine output as if having facts I could write down would protect us from the inevitable.

Olivia asked to see people, so we made a list. I made telephone calls and explained to person after person that she was in renal failure and not expected to live. Every time I told the story, I dealt with the shock and grief of the person I was talking with. Relatives, neighbors, teachers, aides; parents of Olivia’s friends, school administrators, the school secretary, the school nurse, the bus driver-everyone was called. Olivia knew everyone, and everyone loved her.

On August 3 and 4, people came visiting. Olivia’s best friend, Elizabeth, came with a necklace and a card that I keep to this day. It said, “Dear Olivia, I’m so so sad. I hope you stop feeling bad. I wanted to tell you that theres a lot of peaple that I know that are up there, like Papa and Ant Temple. I hop you meet them. I love you. I love you! Your friend!”

cairns2 by you.I felt a limitless abundance of love and energy flowing as people came and went, in spite of the circumstances. All of Olivia’s teachers from school and church over the past decade came to see her. An ocean of love and mercy buoyed us during those days. I’d never felt so much peace and depth of being. People we had not seen for years came to the house, bringing food, flowers, books, music, or just themselves. They held our daughter and told her they loved her. I hadn’t seen her so happy or peaceful in a while.

Our twins turned three years old on August 6, and we had immediate family members over the next day for birthday cake, carrying Olivia to the sofa for an hour or so. Olivia loved any sort of party, and it was only because of her repeated and pointed questions about what kind of cake Sage and Rosemary were having that we even agreed to have a party. Having a party for two children in the midst of the dying of another child seemed ghastly; but there was Olivia, who had hardly eaten for two days, clamoring for cake. And so we had cake with pink and blue flowers, and we blew out candles and we gave Olivia all the Sprite she wanted to drink. And the entire time, we all saw that she looked like she was dying. Though she wanted to eat cake, she had no appetite for it and only pushed one pink flower around on her plate. But her eyes lit up as her sisters opened and shared their toys with her. She was happy.

Later that evening, as I tucked her into bed, I asked Olivia how she was doing. “Not too good, mom,” she cairns8 by you.replied, “I hope this doesn’t go on too long.” How long do you think it will be, I asked. She shrugged her shoulders. “You don’t know?” I asked. “I do know,” she replied, watching my face.

“Tomorrow?” I asked. She shook her head no. “The next day?” She nodded. “Two days,” she said. “Two more days.” I lay down on the bed with her and my heart was lead. Two days. How could she know? This was a child who still struggled with measuring time. How could she suddenly tell me “two days?” I was unnerved.

But Olivia spent the next day dying. When she woke up, she could no longer swallow, yet she suffered unrelenting thirst. Her “I’m thirsty” sounded like the cry of Christ from the cross to me.

We used sponges to dribble water into her mouth and to moisten her lips. She suffered trying to breathe, and cairns6 by you.complained of sharp pain in her chest. We’d promised her that there would be no pain, but there was pain. It was terrible watching her suffer. Nobody had anticipated her being so aware as she died, much less her being articulate about it.

Olivia’s suffering that day was intense. The hospice nurse came and offered her morphine, which would relieve her suffering but probably also hasten her death. We explained the options to Olivia again, but she said she didn’t want any of that kind of medicine at all. She said she wanted to be awake, even if it hurt. But she accepted something to help her relax without putting her out completely. And she continued to suffer.

As the afternoon sun cast bands of western light against the walls, Olivia fell silent. She watched as I sat beside or on her bed, doing counted cross-stitch and listening to music. There was nothing left to say as we looked at one another. She was fading quickly.

My friend Linda came to sit with us, an unforgettable act of kindness during a terrible time. We didn’t talk. We just sat with Olivia as family members came and went.

At one point during her long day and evening of suffering, I thought I couldn’t stand to watch her suffer any more. I thought that I might go insane, watching her suffer with her decision. I wanted to force morphine on cairns7 by you.her-she was only a child! What if I knew better? And yet I had promised to allow her all possible freedom to die her own way, just as she had lived her own way within limits. As a parent, should I set the limit on her suffering when she was so clearly in her right mind still? Did I only want to medicate her so that I could stop suffering?

And so I did what I had promised I would do, which was to go with her as far as I could, as a companion and servant, but not as a judge or dictator of what ought to be. Her dying time was her own business, and God’s. Mine was to do a mother’s labor, no more and no less.

By the next day, Olivia could no longer speak. She was still alert and recognized everyone, but her jaw seemed clamped shut, something the hospice nurse said happened sometimes while people were dying. Olivia drifted in and out of consciousness. When she saw me every now and then, she gave me a sweet smile. She seemed no longer able to hold hands or squeeze anything, so I held her and looked into her eyes as long as she was awake.

All day, Olivia had 40 respirations per minute; normal respirations are 12-20 per minute. Her little body worked so hard and was so strong. I had stayed with her every single moment of every day of that week, leaving the room only to go to the bathroom. During the early hours of the morning of August 9, I thought she might die as I lay beside her in the bed. Finally, I turned the light on and sat and watched her, holding cairns1 by you.her hand. Because her organs were shutting down and toxins building inside her body, her breath and the entire room smelled like death. The more she breathed, the more overwhelming the smell.

She looked for all the world like she was a breathing body. This terrified me, because she didn’t seem human any more. Her body was there, working; but her spirit seemed to be elsewhere, and I couldn’t go to where she was.

Around 6:30 a.m., I summoned my husband and asked him to pray over us, because I felt I couldn’t bear up any longer. He recalled Philippians 3, “He is able to bring all things into subjection to His will,” and prayed that we would all remain in His will perfectly. I called Olivia’s birth mother and told her that our daughter was dying.

My husband went to work for a few hours, but by 10:15 a.m. it was clear that Olivia was struggling to breathe. I called him to come home, even though a few days prior, I had called him home and it had been a false alarm. Hospice had said it could be a week or more before she died, so we had no idea when or how, exactly, she would go. Every day, and sometimes every hour, was full of uncertainty and doubt over how he should spend his time. I had committed to staying with Olivia every moment; he was committed to carrying everything else. I urged my husband to listen to his heart and do what seemed right; he came home around 11:30 a.m. About 15 minutes before he arrived, I thought Olivia might just stop breathing; but, no. She seemed to want her daddy with her, too.

We settled in with her, and around noon, Olivia had a giant seizure, her whole body going rigid and shaking with every fiber. Her respirations doubled, but her heart rate grew faint and erratic. The hospice nurse arrived on her regular visit, and could get no blood pressure reading. She guessed that Olivia would die within 24 to 48 hours.

keats4 by you.Olivia next had three seizures in a row, about five or ten minutes apart. These seemed to discharge a lot of energy, and changed her breathing pattern every time. My husband and I held her, and I calmed and talked to her. Her eyes opened after the second seizure, and she looked me right in the eye. She seemed to be afraid, so I climbed behind her on the bed and cradled her in my arms, getting as much of her body against mine as I could, containing her as she seized. By the fourth seizure, she seemed aware, but only as if from a distance. Peace covered her.

After the fourth seizure, Olivia’s breath came in soft little “huhs” that almost sounded like “that . . . that . . . that . . .” Her teeth almost imperceptibly clicking together. Finally, we were hearing “hut (click) . . . hut (click) . . . hut (click) . . . hut (click).”

Then her last breath came, and everything stopped.

It was entirely quiet. Everything seemed sacred. I was glad for Olivia that her spirit was no longer tethered to a spent body.

Then, we cried.

cairns5 by you.

19 responses to “Her Dying Time | Finale”

  1. lemonytree Avatar

    May your heart heal . Bless You.

  2. Eve Avatar

    Tammy, I have let you into the most intimate places of my life. :o) I’m grateful to have a vehicle for sharing what I haven’t shared otherwise, much.

  3. Tammy Avatar

    I feel like you’ve let me into the most intimate places of your life. I can’t express how precious hearing of Olivia’s last hours are to me. And that you were there for every minute. I am so very sorry for your loss…

  4. Elizabeth Avatar

    I’ve got a big lump in my throat. Thanks for sharing all this.

  5. Eve Avatar

    Everyone, I am exhausted today after two days of back-to-purga—-er, back-to-school stuff, and spending every available moment trying to find a car to replace the one our daughter totaled Friday night. Being short a car and driver with such a large, active family is a challenge in a place where public transportation is nearly non-existent.

    I want to thank each and every one for your comments. I felt ambivalent about writing this, and really wasn’t up to writing it before now. I admire the people who can write while they are newly bereaved; I just couldn’t.

    Ruth and Irene’s comments were especially useful, for I think it would be useful or helpful to try to distill what I learned and how I came out of the experience. I don’t know how you do it, Deb–care for the sick and dying. That’s a special calling, just like teaching!

    RG, I think I know what you mean when you wrote about your sister’s suffering. And I imagine that you and your whole family are still very much in the throes of grief. I know I was in some kind of a double life for almost a year; I appeared normal and did normal things, but oh was I ever carrying such grief around. It was so odd.

    I’m especially proud of my daughter. She was very brave, and maintained her love and humor to the end. What a gift.

    I’ll be back soon to reflect on what I carried away from this. But I doubt I’ll have time to blog much for the next few days.

  6. David Rochester Avatar

    Very few people are given the gift of this kind of death. While Olivia’s life was tragically short, the beauty of the sacred space and life-celebration you and your husband, your family and friends, gave to your child … and her wisdom and presence in dealing with her own death … these things bear witness to the greatest graces of human experience.

    To read your words is to know that there is room for great blessing in time of sorrow, and to be inspired to invite and provide that when the time comes for the people I love to die.

  7. Mei-Ling Avatar


    I can’t possibly imagine how frightened you were, how great the pain must have been for you to have to watch her go through all that…

    But the way you describe it is beautiful.

  8. Alida Avatar

    It’s always difficult for me to comment when you write about Olivia. R.G. summed it all up in his statement, “Oh, that everyone could have a mother like you!”

    I remember on right after 9/11 listening to a news report about a woman searching for her husband who worked in one of the towers.

    She was crying, her fear was that she was not there to hold his hand as he died.

    I found such powerful love in that statement, it still bring tears to my eyes. To know that there is nothing you can do to save the person, but to be brave enough to face it and to be there for them as they die.

    Olivia must’ve felt so loved and safe. Your grace, love and courage are…words eluded me.

  9. renaissanceguy Avatar

    Eve, reading about your incredible journey with your daughter is extremely cathartic for me. As I think about my sister’s death 3 1/2 months ago, and my friend’s death 3 days ago, it is a very healing thing to read about your experience.

    You gave Olivia such a precious gift. To have been there for her is obviously one of the reasons that you yourself were brought into this world. Oh, that everyone could have a mother like you!

    One line resonated with me very much. You wrote, “Did I only want to medicate her so that I could stop suffering?”

    I know the feeling. As I watched my sister’s suffering, many was the time when I wished that she would be less brave and just take whatever drugs were available to take away her pain. She was trying to be as alert and awake as possible and to hold onto her life as long as she could. Like you I wondered if I wanted to ease her pain for my own sake as much as for hers.

    She did take pain medication, but only as much as she felt she absolutely needed.

    I even had the thought, for a brief moment, that I wished I had something to inject her with myself that would finally put an end to all her suffering. I was horrified at that thought and remembered that I needed to abide by her wishes and also that it was a wicked, selfish thing to ever think about doing.

  10. Irene Avatar

    Dear Eve, thank you so much for sharing this incredible story. Olivia is so very much alive here in your words. It has been so beautiful to meet her.

    And thank you for sharing Olivia’s dying time. One is so rarely honoured with this kind of sharing. Everything you gave her during this time has been a gift for me to be a part of – your courage, your fear, your love, and your unknowing. How you held her.

    Thank you so much. My heart hurts so much for you. I’m sending you a big warm hug.

    I also would like to hear how you healed and traveled in the days that followed, if you can.

  11. henitsirk Avatar

    Eve, I am so glad you were able to be with her. It must have been terrifying and humbling.

  12. deb Avatar

    I’ve been with many people as they lay dying, but never a child, and never a child of mine. This broke my heart reading it. And I’m sorry that it was so hard for her and for you.

  13. Shirley Avatar

    Eve, my dear, Eve. Over the distance of space and time and knowledge, I weep with you, for conquering such limitations is my response as one human–as one mother–to another.

    Though I have pat answers–answers I believe–it is at such moments as these, that I have a flickering understanding of the unbeliever who lifts a fist to the sky and demands to know: How is there God?

    God is there and here and occupies every situation. He is the Master of life and of death and of our destinies, and despite such horror that seems quite unbearable, He is God. Should I judge, I say, no child should die before its parent; no mother should crawl through such torture. But I’m not God, and I don’t understand as He does.

    And we must recall that from the beginning, He planned a sinless world of health and goodwill.

    I am so sorry, Eve. I am so sorry.

  14. MommaRuth Avatar

    Thank you, Eve, for sharing your story and Olivia’s story.

    You must have found it difficult to relive those days and months.

    Will you share how your heart healed in the days and years to come?

  15. helenl Avatar

    Eve, “everything seemed sacred,” because it was sacred. Thank you for sharing this beautiful account of Oliva’s home-going.

  16. unsignedmasterpiece Avatar

    I cannot find words either. Your account is so moving. They say what a child wants more than anything is your presence and it it must have been a great comfort to her to know that you were always there.

  17. charlotteotter Avatar

    Oh Eve, my heart goes out to you and your family and Olivia. You write so beautifully and movingly about what must be the hardest thing in the world. All I can say is that Olivia must have felt so safe with your arms around her.

  18. Lee Avatar

    Eve, words fail me. I had to keep stopping and starting when I was reading the last two sections of Olivia’s story because I was just ready to bawl. The one thing that kept resonating to me though was grace. It seemed so present in how she lived and in how you helped her through her dying .

  19. Jade Park Avatar

    Whooooooo. You did Olivia proud. Thank you again for sharing and touching a part of my heart that is rarely touched.

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