Sometimes my dreams are regular dreams, rhythmic and steady. Sometimes in the night, my hand cups my left breast and I startle awake at the galloping pace that rattles my fingertips, and whatever I’ve been dreaming vanishes. It’s happened so much that I don’t even get up. I simply slow my breathing. I count to six as I inhale and I count to six or eight on exhale. Gradually, I feel my heart rate slow. My breast becomes a metronome again until its flutter is less and less palpable. I hope I don’t die tonight.
The news media has been full of death counts since March. It’s so inescapable that I signed a document stating to not hospitalize me for ARDS of COVID-19, although they were not treating the coagulation complications of COVID at that time, and now they are. So maybe I would choose differently today. I almost always choose life. So many people lament dying alone in these days that it’s a familiar litany, a global sorrow that COVID patients in most cases die in isolation from those who love them. I’ve written of this myself, because of how most people feel. But I must admit I wouldn’t mind dying alone. I think if I had my faculties, being alone might help me pay attention to the business of dying. Still, I hope I don’t die tonight.
It occurs to me that by the time my book is released, more relatives may have died. I didn’t think of this at all until Aunt Evelyn died in March, and now I learn that Uncle Oscar is in hospice. They are the last remaining close attachments to my parents. They always knew my dad was a tyrant and, without really knowing how it was for us, they wanted to believe it wasn’t so heinous. It would not have been a great revelation to learn what’s in my book, but it might have been painful for them. It is a clear grace to be spared that distress.
We go through our Advance Directives and I see that we are now asked to specify what “quality of life” means to us. I think of Jean-Dominique Bauby and “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.” Just find one meaningful thing, I think, even if you’re locked-in. So many of the living today struggle to find meaning in lockdown, a lesser imprisonment, yet we flit from project to project, recipe to recipe, Zoom to Zoom. Quality of life must be more than freedom from breathing machines, the ability to recognize family and friends, to think well enough to make everyday decisions, to live without severe pain. We contemplate our death and we cling to life.
I hope I don’t die tonight.