EPI’s mother is dying. It’s a matter of hours now, rather than days. It’s huge and rather scary. I have never been so close to anyone going through this process before; have never observed it up close like this.

It’s so often said that here in the West we’re so removed from death – we keep it locked away in institutions and don’t want to see it. I suppose that’s true. With EPI’s mother, however, it’s been happening in increments for the past ten years or so, when she first started showing signs of having Alzheimers disease.

His father – her husband of over 50 years – looked after her for a very long time, absolutely refusing to have her placed in an institution. Finally it became an impossible task. Just before Christmas last year she fell at home and broke her arm. Hospitalization followed, and she has not returned home since then.

About two months ago she fell again, and this time broke her hip. After that, it was almost as if she gave up on living. She was put on painkillers and more or less slept all the time, only waking occasionally and sometimes attempting to speak. Nonetheless, those who loved her continued to visit her, to sit with her and hold her hand – or even just to meet in her hospital room, to sit and chat with each other, confident that she would know that they were there.

She was a wonderful woman – elegant, gracious, charismatic, and above all kind, and even when the disease had robbed her of most of her faculties, she still had the power to create a sense of harmony and goodwill in her immediate surroundings. In fact, all through her disease, the thing she would tell people most, over and over, was how pretty or beautiful they were. That was her recurring theme. Telling people they were beautiful.

She’s being amazingly well taken care of. The nurses attend to her every couple of hours, turning her in her bed, making sure she’s clean and that her skin and lips are moisturized, and administering morphine. I know the nurses have a special fondness for her, because ever since she went into that ward they have repeatedly remarked on how gracious she is, and how kind. Her family – EPI’s father, his brother and three sisters, their children, and others who are close to her – take turns staying in the room with her. They’re saying goodbye.

The deterioration has been systematic, and it has now been about four days since she stopped taking in any sort of nourishment, or water. She does not respond to any sort of stimuli, neither sound nor touch. She lies motionless on the pillows, her eyes half open but not seeing, her only movement being the rise and fall of her chest. I can’t even say she looks particularly peaceful. I don’t think she’s the sort of person who surrenders easily to death – she was too full of vitality for that. And yet, like the Inuit people, she has gone out onto the ice floes to die. She’s gone – except that her metabolism continues to tick as if by habit. But soon that, too, will stop.

… will resume tomorrow.