They sat her up every morning at eight, put makeup on her face, and dressed her in a sweet pink bedjacket with lace around the collar. They begged her to eat, to get into a chair, to walk around the floor and go to the gift shop, even after she had a pathological fracture from the cancer that was eating her body from the inside out.
Her daughter dressed her in clothing that wouldn't reveal the mass that was growing on her side, a mark of the cancer that had come back, or the tubes that came out of each side of her chest to drain the fluid that was accumulating there.
We'd talked about hospice, but they wouldn't hear of it. Mom was going to get better, by God, and she'd have surgery to fix that arm, even after the orthopedic surgeon told them there was no chance of it healing.
Finally, after admissions at three different hospitals, they took her home. They'd heard the same thing at three different places. It was obvious there wasn't any hope, that her best chance at comfort was morphine in her own bed. All they'd let her have with us was ibuprofen. She hurt all the time.
She died the day after they left our floor.
They were both shocked when the doctors came in with the news: tests showed that he had, at most, a few hours to live. Life expectancy is funny that way: you can go from weeks to live to hours to live in almost no time.
Still, he wouldn't take morphine. Not because she wouldn't let him, but because (his words) he didn't want to lose the hours he had left. They'd been married forty years, and she'd been with him through all the important times, so he wanted to be with her now, when he was dying.
He lasted four and a half hours. They lay together on the bed, holding hands, talking about how wonderful their lives together had been. At the end, he got sleepy, so she cuddled his head into her shoulder and held him even after he'd stopped breathing.
This is the same coin, the coin that has hard-won, painful life on one side and a gentle death on the other. The one side is selfishness and pain, the other is acceptance and love.
These are the coins that we pay the ferryman with.