Recalling the last sounds as a loved one slips away

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

I wonder what the last sound I’ll ever hear will be. I know my husband Earl’s.

It all came about when the hospice phoned me at 10 that chilly November morning in 2011. The end was near. I should come quickly.

When I got to Earl’s room he had a visitor. A man from our church (whose name I couldn’t recall) was sitting by the bed. He’d just happened to stop in. He had no idea of what was happening.

Then, a familiar tall figure with dark hair and dark eyes appeared. Len, Earl’s best friend had arrived.

I wanted only to be alone with Earl. Yet, there sat this very nice man. And there stood Len.

I felt angry. I wanted to cry. I didn’t know what to do. But having been an airline stewardess, my instinct was to calm down and treat both of them politely as though they were passengers on a flight.

I suggested to the church man that because Earl was in a deep coma and could no longer speak perhaps it would be wise for him to leave.

Len first gave me a hug. He then moved instinctively to the left side of Earl’s bed and sat on a chair positioned there.

Of course Len would do this. He was a Befriender for his Catholic church. He’d sat beside many a dying man, offering prayers and peace.

I took a seat on Earl’s right, reached down and took hold of his hand.

I asked Len how he’d happened to visit Earl this particular day. Had he felt a sudden urge? Had some intuition told him that Earl was passing?

Len replied no. It was just happenstance.

But it proved to be one of those amazing things that seemed destined. No one could have been better company for me at that moment than Len Gross.

We talked quietly about Earl’s sons, Jack, Rick and Jeff. Len spoke of his son, Mark, who had earned an agrarian degree and just purchased a farm in Kansas that he was working. I told Len of my cousin, Dr. Merle Hanson, who once was a professor of parasitology at the Manhattan State University Ag School in Manhattan, Kansas.

Our conversation slid over old times. How Earl and Len both were born in rural North Dakota. That they’d met working for the same company in Minnesota. I discovered Len hadn’t realized Earl was dating me until he told him of our engagement. I reminded Len that he and his wife Marlys had given us a waffle iron for our wedding.

And so as Len and I talked softly, even laughing a bit at some silly reminder, Earl slowly slipped away hearing our voices.

Carol Hall lives in Woodbury. She’s a longtime freelance writer, a University of Minnesota graduate and a former Northwest Airlines stewardess.