Over all these put on love, the perfect bond.
I checked his blood oxygen level. I brought him medicine, kissing him when I gave it to him, as I always had. He responded feebly with almost imperceptible nods. He had become too weak to even raise a trembling hand anymore. I held him, caressed him, prayed with him. Through the hours, with growing intensity, the numinous and the practical were fused in the simplicity of love – so that my wifely acts of service and his receiving them carried a powerful sense of the sacred, much like the ritual actions of a priest at the altar. The prayer of our hearts, our quiet union as I cared for him through the night, revealed solid realities as powerful as any physical force of nature.
At some point I decided to call Andrea because Bob had a fever.
I also let her know about the bubbling sound his breathing was making and how it was getting louder. She said I could try some suction and that I could crush some Tylenol in a little water and give it to him. I explained this to him and he tried to nod. I rubbed more of the oils for breathing on him and peppermint, too, for fever — on his head, chest and feet. I held his hand, wrapping my rosary around so we both held it. I had gotten the rosary he had given me in the beginning — the one that was my sign from God about Bob. * I prayed aloud and he moved his head slightly. He was having to focus so much energy on breathing. Checking his blood oxygen level, I was a bit alarmed. I gave him his medicine for secretions and a breathing treatment. I climbed onto the bed with him after I could not get him propped up well enough and pushed his limp and heavy torso up from behind to lay him against my own — explaining to him that I thought this would help him breath better. I held my rosary against his chest and continued to pray quietly. He pressed his cheek against mine. I lay my hand against his other cheek.
I knew he needed my emotional support and, at the same time, that he was trying to love me and support me too. I breathed with him. I did this a long time, I think — eventually falling silent.
Come Holy Spirit, the Comfortor, and ease his passage.
I began to worry about how labored his breathing was. I wondered if I should call Andrea back. I had since turned up the oxygen and his level got better for a while but had fallen again. I wasn’t sure if I could turn it up more. He sounded terrible. I struggled with myself because we felt so right as we were. But Andrea might know of something else that could ease his suffering. So I had to call her. I told Bob I needed to call her and that I had forgotten to bring my phone into the bed with us. It was on the dresser where I couldn’t reach. He cried out weakly, “No! No!”
I tried to stay and hold him longer but the sound was so loud and his breathing so terribly labored that I had to get up.
“Bobbi, I have to. She might be able to help you be more comfortable, Baby!”
“OK,” he managed.
As carefully as I could I slid from behind him and tucked pillows in my place. Andrea said “OK. I’ll be there in a minute.”
I called Mark, who had asked to be informed of any changes, and told him how it was and that I had called Andrea and she was on her way over. I prayed over Bob, rubbing his chest, kissing his face, slipping into bed beside him to hold him and to wait and to breath. Andrea came. We prayed a prayer common among our group of friends and in our family. The girls and I had prayed it before they walked me down the aisle at my and Bob’s wedding.
Come, Holy Spirit, come by means of the powerful intercession of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Thy well-beloved Spouse.
Bob opened his eyes and looked at Andrea with that trust and relief with which he usually regarded her lately. She went to work in the room and I sat on the other side of the bed now, holding Bob’s other hand as I began the Divine Praises. Andrea joining me as she worked.
Blessed be God. Blessed be His Holy Name. Blessed be Jesus Christ, true God and true man. Blessed be the Name of Jesus, Blessed be His Most Sacred Heart…
She checked equipment, checked Bob out, took a small machine from under the bed. She was annoyed that there was a part missing when she took the plastic wrapping off. She had to go call someone about this. Bob was breathing a little better and had dropped off to sleep after the last dose of morphine.
I put on a pot of coffee, a comforting ritual of our 20-year-old friendship, and sat down with her to wait for the parts guy to bring what she needed. She advised me to look busy or disappear when the man got here because he tends to talk people’s head off.
I wanted to get back to Bobbi anyway. So I went and knelt at the bedside and watched him sleep — aware that I must enjoy looking at him and touching him while I may.
Everything about him enchants me, O daughters of Jerusalem. Indeed he is altogether lovely.
Eventually I heard the parts guy arrive and Andrea sent him off with quick dispatch. She came in with the little machine and said we might be able to do more effective and deeper suction with this one. Bob was awake now and watching me. I first cleaned the inside of his mouth with one of those little swabs I had been using to give him water. There was a lot of sputum on it and I showed it to him, smiling.
“Look at this!” I said. “You’re gross!”
I laughed and kissed him.
Andrea handed me the wand to the suction machine and I tried first. I didn’t seem to get much even though I was aggressive about it. She put a different attachment on it and she tried going deeper. He still bubbled and rattled away. It was getting worse. I began to pray the Litany of St. Joseph and Andrea said the responses.
Christ have mercy… Christ have mercy… Christ hear us… Christ graciously hear us…
I moved to the other side of the bed as she listened to Bob’s heart and lungs with a stethoscope. I think that’s what she did.
Joseph most strong….Pray for us. Joseph most obedient…Pray for us.
We finished the rosary I had begun earlier. I noticed that Bob’s blood oxygen level was dropping more and I mentioned this. Andrea said she was going to take his blood pressure. I caressed Bob’s head.
God, please help him.
After a while, Andrea said, “OK,” in a calm and final way. She said what was going to happen now was that there would be some breaks in his breathing as his heart tried to double its work to deal with the lack of oxygen. And the breaks would get longer and longer. She stopped.
I understood. I called Mark. I said, ” I think we’re pretty close, you’d better get over here.”
I started to sing to Bob. At first Andrea sang too but she left off. She continued to rub oils on his feet. I sang, “I love you, Lord,” a song often sung by our household and our friends. I sang “What Wondrous Love Is This O My Soul.” I sang “Come Holy Ghost, Creator Blest.” All of those were sung at our wedding. I chanted the Ave Maria, also sung at our wedding. I sang “Gentle Mother,” which we had sung at his Confirmation.
Andrea said his breathing had improved and calmed with my singing. She thought it was really helping him.
Mark arrived. He got into bed by Bob on the other side and held Bob. His tears fell on Bob’s face and he kissed his forehead, saying, “Oh Bobbi! Oh Bobbi!” as Bob struggled to breathe. I knew it was hard for Mark to see Bob suffer so I was quick to point out that though Bob’s body struggled to breath his face was serene.
“Look at his face!” I said.
Bob had turned his face toward me and it truly was peaceful; as much as his chest heaved with the struggle for breath. This calmed Mark down some and we were all hushed by the richness of the love in the room. As Mark was to say later, it poured out of every one of us — out of Bob, out of Mark, out of Andrea, out of me, out of God — and in us and through us and around us.
Eventually Mark got up to go in the kitchen to blow his nose and get a breakfast taco. I took up singing again. I was in the middle of, “Here I Come to Worship” when Bob’s eyes opened wide, his chin coming up sharply as he raised his face. He seemed to see something over Andrea’s shoulder, in the upper right corner of the room where Nan had put a chalice filled with roses and herbs next to a little statue of Mary and a candle. He seemed to be looking a few feet above that. He stared fixedly as his eyes got wider and wider.
He stopped breathing. Andrea said my name. I said, “I know! I see it!” and I called to Mark that he had better get in here. He was back in his place in a flash. We had our arms beneath Bob on opposite sides, our hands on his chest. Bob started gasping for breath again. His eyes were normal now and seemed imperturbable.
He had such beautiful eyes.
I turned his face to me and told him he could go, he could let go.
“We all love you and we’re very proud of you! You can go to God now. Just let go. I love you, Bob! I love you! I love you! I will always love you!”
I kissed his face. He had closed his eyes before this and when I said he could go to God, he opened them, giving me a momentary flicker of intensity, assent, and love. By the time I had stopped speaking he seemed to gaze at me serenely, even tenderly. Then several more shuddering gasps took him, his mouth opening wide in the struggle for air though his expression was calm.
Andrea’s head was bowed, her face wet with tears as she held Bob’s feet. Mark was crying, too. I don’t know whether I was crying or not. I was only aware of them, and of Bob.
He stopped breathing. There were no more gasps.
The Book of Wisdom says our life is dispersed like a mist. That’s exactly how it looked, like a mist of life dispersed. And he went gray suddenly as the life went out of him. I closed his eyes gently, kissing his eyelids as I had so often done. I sprinkled him with rose petals.
It was 5:58am. Friday, April 13, 2012.
For I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand.
I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance. Try to join me soon,
2 Tim. 4:6-9