This is how I know


Observations – by Kavita.

Hands holding

My 78-year-old mother breathes hard, curled on her left side in a darkened hospital room. Her eyes are closed. We sit in silence with her. After a lifetime of busy, now there’s only waiting. I reach out from my bedside chair and take her hands in mine. She doesn’t pull away.

This is how I know she is dying.

Twelve years later, my 94-year-old father lies on a different hospital bed, moving in and out of restlessness and dreamlike efforts to find his sister. He mumbles. She can help him “Get out of here.” I stroke his arm and murmur assurance, “We’ve let her know.” And, “We are waiting for her to come help.” I don’t mind lying, because she, too, is ancient, feeble, and living in a far-away city disconnected from reality.

I hold his hand and tearfully relish his sweet presence. He had been bound by fear and mistaken ideas about being a father. We rarely touched, usually just a handshake with hellos and goodbyes. Now, he doesn’t pull away.

This is how I know he is dying.

Months later, my 17-year-old cat lies in my arms. His orange and white coat is as silky as ever. He makes a weak sound. Some invisible discomfort untouched by pain medication interrupts his purring. I stroke him and nuzzle him, tears overflowing. He doesn’t pull away.

This is how I know he is dying.

Two years later, my 69-year-old brother lies unmoving on his back where the nurses have positioned him. The rhythmic sound of the machine pulsing an oxygen-rich mix of air into his lungs soothes me, a welcome intrusion that balances my brother’s silence and the intensive care unit background noise of voices, beeps, and footsteps. I wipe a damp cloth over his glistening forehead. I stroke his arm. I wrap my two hands around one of his. I stand and talk to him, smiling, crying, amazed by my onslaught of memories and the waves of love. He doesn’t argue with me or roll his eyes, discomfited by my kindness. He doesn’t pull away.

This is how I know he is dying.

First published in MicroLit Almanac by Birch Bark Editing (, re-produced with permission

Featured image by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash


Kavita (aka Lasell Jaretzki Bartlett) is a horsewoman, author, and somatic therapist. She lives on a small farm in rural Virginia.

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