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  • Writer's pictureKatie Beucus

Caring for Death

There is a photo from immediately after Aaron passed. I am sitting in bed next to him, tear stained cheeks, and smiling. In part from the beautiful moment I got to witness, as his soul left his body and in part because my heart felt so much lighter knowing he was free of so much suffering.


On Friday, February 3rd Aaron woke up but requested to stay in bed. This was off. We had slept through the night. We never slept through the night. I always had him up and out of bed before the kids went to school. Around 9 he said he needed to get up so we could empty his bladder. As I assisted him to the sitting position in bed, he quickly became very unsteady, eyes rolling back in his head and repeating “belly pull, belly pull” before going into a series of seizures. I quickly laid him back down and elevated his feet. Slowly he came back to, no recollection of what had just happened.


I talked him through how I thought he should stay in bed until my brother came to help me, how I would just empty his bladder laying down, how it was ok to just take a day and rest. We could all hang out together and watch TV and laugh like we had done for the several days prior. And then he went back to sleep.


I don’t remember much in the initial hours following this. My brother was already on his way over, we had plans for him to be with Aaron while I filed some last minute paperwork. I called Aaron’s parents and told them to come, I texted our friends and family an update. I texted my friend who is a nurse about how his hands had grown cooler and his nail beds a hint of blue and then I don’t remember having my phone for the rest of the day.


The last 12 hours or so of Aaron’s life, as he was actively dying, were excruciating for me. I was dosing him with Morphine and Ativan alternately every few hours. Sometimes sooner. Things you wouldn’t normally dose together in an otherwise healthy person, something that countered all I knew after meticulously managing Aaron’s dozens of medications, including opioids, over the last year. But as it turns out, the contraindications of these two medications as someone is dying, are actually helpful.


He wavered in and out of consciousness until around 3:30 PM. I remember talking through straight cathing him around noon during a bout of consciousness between visitors. It had been six hours since I emptied his bladder last and we would normally cath every 4 hours during the day. Only this time his bladder was still empty. His kidneys had already shut down. He asked me if there was a lot of urine. I lied and said yes. I had never done that before. I always told him exactly what was going. What we could expect from treatment and medications. The good, the bad. Everything I knew and had learned. In this moment I didn’t want to scare him I guess, which now feels silly because he was never afraid of dying.


Despite all we had been through that day, all I had witnessed, Aaron telling me point blank, “It’s happening Katie. I’m in the clouds. Ellie is here, I love you” this was the moment it sank in for me. This was really happening.


Aaron’s body had also lost the ability to control its temperature, at one point he was up to 108*. We removed all blankets from him but a sheet, and my brother and friends rotated through cooling his forehead with damp washcloths.


Shortly thereafter the agonal breathing began, which if you don’t know what that sounds like, maybe don’t google it. It went on for TEN loooooong hours. My brother sat at the foot of our bed the entire day as friends and family came to spend time with us and Aaron, and I remember once everyone had left around 9:30 PM I looked down to my brother and mouthed, “This is awful.”


There is a photo from around 11:00 PM of the kids in bed with us, saying goodbye. Evan between Aaron and I, Haddie piled on-top of me. They were originally going to stay with their cousins, but decided to come home which is why they were up so late. Haddie opted to go to her bed, while Evan drifted off between us one last time. Like me, physically finally able to be close with Aaron again. The photo is a live photo. The agonal breathing captured in time. A sound the kids only heard for a short while, one I hope they don’t remember.


And so while for many, the thought of seeing beauty in death seems impossible, the idea of smiling through tears improbable, but for me it was immediate.

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2 Comments


caiti24
Aug 16, 2023

Katie, this is just so gut wrenching and beautiful all at the same time. I have never met you or anyone in your family in person but Zack always has the best things to say about you all. I admire your strength and your vulnerability and I hope to one day give you a very big hug. 💜

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mandd5girls
Aug 15, 2023

Tears reading this Katie. Thank you for your bravery and love being with Aaron for his whole journey. I have 4 times been with those who died… my mom, my 1st husband and both of my husband Dave’s parents. Hard, HARD times, but you’re right- the beauty of death is a gift. To see someone leave all the pain behind and step into something that must be so beautiful that they smile…. Just an incredible sight. It solidified my beliefs, that’s for sure.

You are wise WAY beyond your years. Not a gift you requested but oh what a gift you earned. Sending you love and strength every day. ❤️❤️❤️❤️

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