The Heart of the Matter
June 21, 2015
First Breath, Last Breath

Copy of danny's bar mitzvah 066 (2)GrandpaBarney.jpg

There is a time of life when the time of life is about to end -- the time of last breaths, the time of saying goodbye to everything you have ever known or loved, the time of letting go.

This is the time my father now finds himself in.

He is flat on his back in a hospital bed, but the hospital bed is in his bedroom in West Palm Beach which is where he has chosen to die -- and will.

There will be no more calls to 911, no more paramedics, no more blood transfusions, no needles, no pills, no tests. This is his death bed and we are around it, me, his son -- his daughter, my sister -- my wife, his daughter-in-law -- grandchildren, great grandchildren, and the ever present hospice nurse here to keep him as comfortable as possible.

His mouth is dry. He cannot swallow. Someone swabs his lips as he gathers what's left of his strength to move his tongue toward the precious few drops of water.

The sound track for his last night on Earth is an oxygen machine pumping purified air through transparent tubes clipped to the end of his nose.

On the counter -- creams. Creams for this and creams for that and creams for the other thing, too. I've never seen so many creams.

Those of us around his bed are very still, holding his hand, rubbing his back, looking at him and each other in ways we have never looked before.


There is very little for my father to do but breathe. This lion of a man whose life was defined by ferocity and action is barely moving now. A turn of the head. A flutter of the eye. A twitch.

Though his eyes are closed, I know he can hear, so I bend closer and talk into his good, right ear. I tell him he's done a good job and that all of us will be OK. I tell him I love him and to go to the light. I tell him everything is fine and he can let go.

The hospice nurse is monitoring his vital signs. They keep getting lower and lower. I touch my father's cheek and it is cooler than before. His skin looks translucent. Almost like a baby's.

He opens his eyes and shuts them once again. None of us around him know what to do, but that's OK because it's clear there is nothing to do.

Being is the only thing that's happening here.

My father had his last shot of morphine about an hour ago. He had his last bowl of Cheerios yesterday at 10am. Cheerios and half of a sliced banana. That was the last time he could swallow.

It is quiet in the room. Very quiet.

I see my sister, my nieces, my wife, the nurse. All of us are as helpless as my father. The only difference is we are standing.

If only we could pay as much attention to the living as we do to the dying. If only we could stop long enough from whatever occupies our time and truly care for each other, aware of just how precious each breath is, each word, each touch, each glance.

Sitting by my father's side, I am hyper-aware of everyone who enters the room -- the way they approach his bed, what they say, how they say it, the look on their face, their thoughts.

I want to be this conscious all the time, attuned to the impact I have on others in everything I do. It all matters.

Nothing has prepared us for this moment. Not the books on death and dying, not the stories of friends who's fathers have gone before. Not the sage counsel of the Rabbi.


One thing is clear. Each of us will get our turn. Our bodies, like rusty old cars gone beyond their warrantees, will wear out. Friends and family will gather by our side, speak in hushed tones, hold our hands, and ask if we are comfortable.

That's just the way it is. It begins with a breath, the first -- and ends with a breath, the last.

In between? A length of time. A span of years. A hyphen, as my teacher, Prem Rawat, likes to say, between birth and death.

What this hyphenated experience will be is totally up to us.

Will it be filled with kindness? Love? Compassion? Gratitude? Giving? Delight? Will we be there for each other before it's time to fill out the forms and watch the body -- strapped to a stretcher by two men in black suits -- be driven away like something repossessed?

I hope so. I really do. I hope we all choose wisely. I hope beyond a shadow of a doubt before we walk through the shadow in the valley of death that we choose to hold each others' hands NOW, rub each other's backs, bring each other tea, and listen from the heart with the same kind of infinite tenderness we too often reserve only for those about to depart.

My father is very quiet now, breathing only every 20 seconds or so. Or should I say being breathed?

And then...there is nothing. Only silence. No breaths come. No slight changes of expression on his face. No whispered words of love.

We, around his bed, are in his home, but he is somewhere else.

Bye bye Daddy! Travel well! Know that we love you and will keep the flame of who are deeply alive in our hearts. Thank you for everything. We will meet again. Amen!

On love

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at June 21, 2015 07:46 AM


Dear Mitch,
You have perfectly described my experience with both my parents. Love to you and your loved ones in celebrating your fathers life. Namaste

Posted by: Pamela Richmond [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 22, 2009 11:08 AM

thank you for sharing this tender moment with us mitch ~
a masterful piece of writing , expressing such a bitter/sweet moment in a very profound , deep , but beautiful way, filled with light , understanding ~
we are so incredibly blessed to be conscious in this life ~
here's to us all enjoying our breaths each day that we are given them ~
thanks , janice

Posted by: janice [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 22, 2009 11:17 AM

I would like to offer my sympathies to you on your loss but having lost both my parents there is an understanding that I had from though losses, an appreciation. I can tell that you loved and appreciated your Dad for the life that he lived and in your heart you know that all is well. Take care my friend your journey of life continues but now with a greater appreciation.

Posted by: Chris [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 22, 2009 01:02 PM


My sympathy to you my dear. I've had quite a few losses of late and I resonate with what you're saying. My mother passed last year and you can view the blog I wrote called COMING IN AND GOING OUT at Liz Driscoll.

Let us love now and not wait for emergencies. That's my lesson over and over. Take tender care of yourself. Tara

Posted by: Tara Liz Driscoll [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 22, 2009 06:02 PM

Bless you Brave Son
And very well done
For sharing with us -
The living, the breathing -
The passing of your Beloved Mortal Father
Whose final moments and breaths
You clearly paint
With Poetic Insight
And deep, feeling heart
Our own mortal paths
Forever changing
Adventuring ever onward
With our Eternal Father!

Posted by: j bhutu-ji [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 22, 2009 09:25 PM

Thanks Mitch for all your poignancy and heartfelt sharing of these last tender moments of life. Thanks too for the reminder of what we have every day. Our love goes out to you and your family. Paddy & Phil

Posted by: Paddy [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 22, 2009 10:37 PM

Thank you, Mitch for sharing these precious feelings with us. My deepest sympathy is with you and your familiy and all those who loved your father. There is Light-guidance for your father's soul...........
One of my best friends in France suddenly passed away a month ago, at only 56. Her heart ceased to beat and all attempts to restart it were vain. Her time here on Earth was up. She had Knowledge and deep in her heart she loved Maharaji, that much I know.
All I could do was think of her with love and intuitively I did so even the day she died, without knowing what was happening.( I'm living in Norway ). Her daughter phoned me only two days after she was gone. It took me, and certainly many others, a couple of weeks and a lot of tears to realise the facts.
You got the chance to be there with your father in his very last moments. My parents are now 87 and 89 and are slowly fading away, mentally and physically. But they are still here and so am I. Another reminder that life can only be fully lived and appreciated moment by moment, right here, right now. Sharing our feelings, in whatever way we do so, is so human and so essential. Thanks again for your ways.
Best wishes from Grethe.

Posted by: gret [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 23, 2009 07:38 AM

The Heart of the Matter couldn't be a more appropriate title for this blog. Sharing your experience of being with your father in the remaining moments of his life is an experience that goes straight to the heart. I lost my father in-law a few years ago. He was more of a father to me than my own. I found that time does heal and the light does begin to illuminate his face now when I think of him. Instead of a feeling of sadness and loss, I can see him smiling and laughing and making me smile and laugh. He lives on in my heart as your father lives on in Shri Hans lives on in Maharaji. It's the way of love in this life. Thank you for reminding me to love every moment and everyone in that moment. They are all so very short.

Posted by: Kim [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 23, 2009 02:15 PM

Hi Mitch, As i leaned over to my father who was comatose and on oxygen support, i whispered to him, ' Please let go dad ... i shall look after mom...set yourself free' And as i sat there over the next few minutes looking at his face turning serene, his undulating chest gave a gurgled sound and with that, his final breath had left him.However my dad is very much alive in my memories and though he has seen Maharaji in public events, he had never pursued Knowledge. The opportunity is always now and not tomorrow. Love the ones we are with. May Peace be with your dad. TQ for sharing ...

Posted by: Blizz [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 24, 2009 12:19 AM

Simply beautiful, Ditty. Thank you for letting us share in your journey through this hallowed space.

Posted by: Jule [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 27, 2009 11:25 AM

Beautiful, I am touched.

With respect. Dave B

Posted by: Dave B [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 31, 2009 05:57 AM

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