I’ve always heard stories about near-death experiences. I’ve seen the documentaries that analyze death in its various forms. I’ve seen movies in which death abounds suddenly. I can tell you that watching death on a screen is nothing like witnessing it in your own home. That experience has changed my personality and my life forever. In 2002, my grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Within three years, he displayed complete memory loss and highly erratic behavior. He yelled and made unrecognizable, guttural sounds. He tried to say things that his tongue wouldn’t allow us to understand. Over the years I watched him deteriorate from the wise head of the family to a person entirely dependent on assistance and constant attention for every action. Despite my begrudging acceptance of the life expectancy rate of Alzheimer’s patients, nothing could have wholly prepared me for his death. “Sara!” my mother shrieked from downstairs. Living with a terminally ill person demanded an alertness that permeated the environment. I became accustomed to the vocal inflections that indicate the level of urgency when someone calls your name. However, this time it was different. I sprinted to my grandfather’s room, the hospital room we fashioned for him. It was as though we had plucked every item from the nearest hospital to transform the room into a patient care center. We heard raspy noises and quickly realized this was the sound of his lungs drying out. My grandfather was lying in his bed with belabored breath, eyes open wide… scared. He was unable to speak to us, or even cry. He had long since forgotten how. My mother called the ambulance. My father sat down and prayed to God for just a little more time. My grandfather slipped away. His once wide, fearful eyes became blank and calm, as if he welcomed that there would be no more pain, misunderstood yelling, and forgetting. The doctor proclaimed his time of death – 5:00 PM. Despite his physical and...
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