How I Helped My Wife Die Peacefully


When all is said and done what is important to me was that we did all we could to save her. And when that failed, we did all we could to make her passing as peaceful as possible.

cartoon image of blogger Robin Zimmerman

We do everything we can to save a loved one, but too often it is just not enough. So it was with my wife, and so it will be for many others to come. When we reach that point, the best we can do is to make that passing as gentle, peaceful and painless as possible.

Before I speak about my wife, I want to jump back to August of 2004 and to what I learned with my father’s passing. He was 82 years old and had lung issues. After my mother passed away, we moved my father into our home. He was with us about two years when he developed a blockage in his kidney. The doctors explained that this would take his life if not surgically removed. But there was a problem: His lungs were not healthy enough for him to survive the anesthesia. He had the option of death by inaction or death by surgery. Surgery was what was then the only choice.

I sat with him and talked before he went into surgery. Fully aware that we would not see each other again, he was able to reassure me that he was OK with his time with us coming to an end. There was nothing left for him in this world he felt he needed to do. After the surgery, he did survive for some time but in a coma. He was still alive but fading. This took a couple of days and there was no noticeable discomfort.

When the end was near, the hospital contacted us (my wife, our children and myself) and were beside his bed. We could see him start to struggle. I leaned close and said, “It’s OK, we will be fine.” And with that he relaxed and passed in peace. It was surreal watching this scene play out on the big screen in a Marvel movie with the death of Ironman. I have to say, they got it right.

We now go to two weeks after my father’s passing and my wife getting diagnosed with melanoma. There was no expectation of her death at this point. First: “It was only skin cancer.” And second: “We got it all.” Of course, neither of these statements were true. Four years pass to the first week of May in 2008. The doctors have told us they have done all they can. The hospital arranged for hospice to come to our house. We brought Bonnie home and got her into her bed until the hospice bed and nurse arrived so Bonnie can be transferred. We were both relieved that the end was going to happen at home and not in a medical facility. As it happens Bonnie has two sisters that are RNs and were there for us as well. It was a warm day, so the windows were open and fresh air blew through the house. Bonnie especially loved camping and the campfire. I went out to the firepit in the backyard and started a small campfire and allowed the scent to fill the house. Of course, we had no idea how long this process would take but between the advice from the hospice nurse and the knowledge of Bonnie’s sisters, we knew what to watch for.

We had a short time to converse before her mind became more and more detached from the world around us. In that short time, regardless of whether I felt it was the truth or not, I assured her we would be OK. Saying this felt surreal as I was facing becoming a single parent to a 12-year-old daughter. Our other child, our son, was 22 and getting ready to marry and had a very supportive fiancé so I was confident of his support. Friends and family came by that afternoon and early evening. Sometimes she was aware, sometimes not. That night our daughter and I laid down to get some sleep expecting to repeat this process in the morning. Come 3 am, we were awakened with the end imminent. We were able to give a last goodbye and reassurance of, “We would be fine.”

When all is said and done what is important to me was that we did all we could to save her. And when that failed, we did all we could to make her passing as peaceful as possible.

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