19 November 2005

Death Rattle vs. Flatline

We were by then fully into the Depression. Hoover closed the banks, including a very insignificant one in Coleman, Texas. My father had helped to found this bank, and in a sense it had been a more satisfactory child to him than his flesh and blood daughter. He survived its closure by just one week, dying quite literally of a broken heart. The night he died we were all together in the home in San Diego. He lay on a hospital bed set up in the alcove off the living room that we called the "music room." My mother sat beside him, holding his limp hand and sighing heavily at intervals, doing her duty to the very end of their life together. The children were upstairs, except the three-months-old baby, who was in her basket in the dining room, where George and I lay sleepless on a quilt. The folding doors into the living room were partially open. Soon after midnight we heard the death rattle, then the final expiration, and then, no more....

We purchased a lot for ten dollars in the unkempt old cemetery at Poway. There on a day of driving November rain we buried my father under the catalpa trees. Mother said this was appropriate, for his mother, the mother he had scarcely known, lay under the catalpa trees somewhere near Uvalde, Texas. The gloom of the brief graveside ceremony was broken for an instant when one of the Laird children piped up, "Did we forget the bananas?" To him, the trip to San Diego meant an opportunity to purchase bananas, not the loss of a grandfather.
SOURCE: Encounter with an Angry God, by Carobeth Laird (U. New Mexico Press, 1993), p. 178

How many people in developed countries these days die at home, surrounded by family, with final expiration heralded by the sound of the death rattle? Nowadays, the flatline on the EKG has replaced the death rattle, and artificial respirators have to be switched off by unrelated experts.

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