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Terrence Chappell Headshot

Her Last Breaths

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One of the most intimate times you can spend with someone is when they take their last breaths. I never knew what this morbid sense of intimacy felt like until Friday, October 18, at about 10:47 p.m., I witnessed my Aunt Darlene Gunthrop take her last breaths. I didn't receive a phone call from a family member telling me of her passing. I didn't just go to her funeral or wake, but I was there. I was in her hospital room. I stroked her arm. I saw her smile when I kissed her on the cheek. I saw them take the trachea out. I saw her faint breaths become shorter and shorter. I saw her die.

We weren't entirely close as I became an adult due to issues in the family, but we were when I was a kid. I actually hate when people ask that question when someone dies, "Were you guys close"? As if your potential answer of "no" cancels out any emotional attachment or lingering feelings about that person or their death. But at that moment we were close because she was dying, not in six months, not in a few weeks, or even in a couple of hours, but my Aunt Darlene was dying now, and I was there.

Those lucky enough to escape death often say your entire life flashes before your eyes. I still had the ignorant comfort of my own life, but in my aunt's last moments, this flood of flashbacks and memories with my aunt rotated in my head. I remembered her husband died when I was about 4 or 5, and I never left her side. I didn't quite understand what was going on, but I'd say he's coming back and begged my parents to have her live with us.

I remembered being afraid of her six-foot-tall tin knight statue in her apartment when I was a kid, and honestly into my teen years, too. I remembered in the early 90s she would come to my parent's house and helped my mom decorate -- she always had more of a modern aesthetic while my mom was more earthy. Their disagreements of color and where to put a couch would even put to shame our government. I also remembered her taking me skating in the summer and how 95.5 WNUA was always playing in the car.

I couldn't help but to think if I was having all these thoughts and memories, what kind of memories was my mom, who was beside me in the hospital room, was having? She had an entire life and existence with my Aunt Darlene, well before my sister and I was even thought into existence. My mom has memories that my sister, my dad and myself will probably never know about. She had a life with her before us. As I thought about my mom's life with her sister, I started to think about my parent's mortality as a whole.

My Aunt Darlene was only 55 years old when she died, and she was younger than my parents. Her death was of course sad, but it made me aware of my parent's mortality. They're not going to live forever. I'm not a kid anymore, and at some point I'm going to have to do this for them. I hate that. I won't ever be ready. Not matter how old, how successful or how confident I am, when (not if, but when) my parents die, I just won't be ready. All I could think of is that my parents are next and how time is so fucking unfair. The feeling and thought was unbearable. But then I also thought that my parents are still here. Not only are they still here, but they're also very active and enjoy calling me early Sunday mornings after they know I've been out the night before. While my Aunt Darlene has joined her mother and my grandmother, Rose Gunthrop, my parents are still here. Because they're still here, we still have time together.

The whole experience taught me that while our time here is limited and no one really knows when their time is up in this lifetime. Time is also a gift. It's a gift that we can choose to share with the people we love and care about. It's not that time is unfair. It's just that sometimes we're unfair with our time. As my mom says, "Don't wait to give me flowers at my funeral, give them to me now."

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