Saturday, February 6, 2010


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Function: preposition
Etymology: Middle English betwene, preposition & adverb, from Old English betwēonum, from be- + -twēonum (dative plural) (akin to Gothic tweihnai two each); akin to Old English twā two
Date: before 12th century
1: by the common action of : jointly engaging
4: in preference for one or the other of
5: in confidence restricted to

Twice in the last couple of weeks, I have sat in the room of a patient actively dying. Both times family and friends have filled the room watching attentively for signs of life and then for none. Breathing patterns change when someone is close to death; when they are hanging between this world and the next. Patients begin to experience periods of apnea, and there are long spaces between each breath. The space between those breathes becomes longer and longer, and the expectation and dread that fills that space becomes palpable. We all watch and both long for and dread the last breath. With each exhalation, I find myself counting the seconds between 1,2,3,4,5…20 inhale. Families are both relieved and saddened at the inhalation, and the question is always “How long do you think this will take?” Sometimes it is hours and sometimes days.
I find when I allow myself to fully enter that place with families, my own breathing becomes shallow and when I leave I have to remind myself to breathe deeply. Time becomes marked by the inhalation and exhalation and the time between is just that, the space that is separated by the inhale and the exhale. I have to remind myself that most of life is lived in the between spaces. The danger in working with the dying is that I am always waiting for the next death, and sometimes I forget to use the time between. I forget to write and take pictures. I take for granted my soul mate who shares life with me. I forget to say “thanks be to God” for the little things – for meals shared with others, for laughter and tears, for good books and music – for all the things that fill the between spaces.


  1. You have also pointed out the danger of "living too closely among the dying"--our breathing changes to the breathing of dying people, too, and it happens without our realizing it. It's only when we enter back into the world of the living does our breathing return to normal. It's good for me to remind myself, "Do I want to breathe like the dying, or the living?"

  2. Which is why it's also important to be among those who laugh and sing.

    Good post, Carrol. Thanks for the heads-up.