Time of Death

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Time of Death

Saturday night, on the way to declare my mother dead,
the hospice supervisor got lost. Her GPS ran out of data,
led her down our dark country road, to an end

that was no end, just nowhere, a black stopping place
between peanut fields and dense acres of pine,
the unmapped road and rolling hills persisting

as far as the car’s headlights could shine. By then,
my mother had been dead for some time, comfortable
and propped in bed, her pancreas and cancer out of gas

at last. The death certificate will say 10:15 p.m., but she died
all week, and before. On Monday, she woke for three mornings
—5, 8, and 10—each time asking for coffee, but falling

back asleep on the couch before the pot dripped
its way to done. Tuesday she gave up breakfast and food
altogether; Wednesday sat on the porch one final

time to watch the hummingbirds visit from another world,
her face a blank, unsigned form. On Thursday, she refused
water, walked herself to the bathroom for a terminal,

autonomous pee. But language faded all along, as if words
were a load too heavy to tote from one place to the next.
Friday she said, “I love you,” and “Take care of Jeanne,”

her youngest sister, who was very sick. All day Saturday,
we watched her chest rise and fall, counted beats, swabbed
her lips, teeth, and tongue, till she took a breath near dark

that was not a breath, just an empty gasp, a dry suck on the straw
that was her life. 7:55 p.m. So we sat, held, hovered, waited
for the one who could say she’s dead. Not thinking then,

but now—what is the real time of death? Midnight, when
the funeral director and his men rolled her toward us in the den,
my brother out of the blue said, “Can we kiss her goodbye?”

Surprised, but agreeable, the handlers paused, pulled down
the rich velvet spread, revealed the black vinyl bag beneath.
Though I can’t recall the exact time, no matter how hard I try,
when they zipped her back up, I know something died.

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5 thoughts on “Time of Death

  1. I think my eyes teared up. When one of my relatives passed away, I thought the funeral was when I came to terms with her death, but a few days later I saw her again in my mind in bed talking with visitors.

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