Ed's daughter, whom I will call "Melissa" apologized that I hadn't been notified in time so that I did not have to come. I expressed my condolences and asked if she was there when he died. She said, "Yes, and it was the strangest thing." She pulled me out into the hallway and asked me if I had remembered the conversation we had two days prior.
Two days ago, she had asked me, "Is it true that when their feet turn blue, that is the sign that the time is near? That is what the nurse said." I smiled. I know that at this time, when a loved one is dying, the words I say will be remembered. I need to be extra thoughtful in my communication. I also do not want to ever contradict another staff member.
I said, "Yes, it is true. However..." and then I began to explain to her the spiritual side of things. That the more that I have worked in hospice, the more I know that the timing is much more mysterious. Sometimes the feet don't change. Sometimes they do and the person doesn't die. What I told her is that there is a plan, and it's something that we don't get to know until later. I told her, "If you are meant to be there, you will be... but sometimes, no matter how much you love them, they would rather spare you of the moment." I told her that it can be nearly impossible to predict which way the patient will want it, but after the fact, it will always seem clear that how it happened was the way it was supposed to happen.
Her eyes got big and she told me that her father in law had passed just minutes after they had left the room. Her own experience confirmed for her what I was saying. She thanked me for the conversation and went to work.
Fast forward to today. This is what Melissa told me in the hallway. Melissa had been thinking about what I had told her. She decided to have a conversation with her dad, "Ed." She told him lovingly, "Dad, you and I both know that I am the only one in the family who can handle being here when you go. Everyone has said their goodbyes... I will look after them. You need to go while it's on my shift."
Within just a couple of minutes, his breathing changed. The nurse acknowledged that it would be soon. Melissa called her family. Knowing that they were on their way, he knew it was time. Ed died within five minutes of his daughter telling him it was time to go. She said he took three breaths and it was a peaceful transition.
So then after Melissa had told me the story, we both found significance in the fact that I had not been notified. It was important to her to tell me the story, and it was helpful for me to hear it.