This may well be past the time of appropriate and timely answering of a question but the subject struck me and my response may be of some help to someone else. As some of you know I am Pollo65's partner (I say am because I don't know how to stop being that).
I have to say her passing took me by surprise even though we lived with her stage 4 diagnosis and treatments for 6 and a half years, even though she was on Hospice for 3 and half months. Was it denial? Probably. But it was also hope. And there is something very powerful and delusional about the fact that it all (maybe the medicine, maybe the belief in the treatment, maybe the prayers, maybe the diet, maybe the support, maybe just her strong will, maybe the love, maybe all of it together was a special and unique symphony or dance of sorts) worked, one way or the other, for 6 and a half years.
For me, there was always one more thing we could do, one more adjustment to be made, one more pill, one more affirmation, one more day, one more holiday or sunrise to be had. Being so close (myopically so) to the gradual changes, the small debilitations that aren't fully registered, at least for me not in a way where I ever said to myself this is really, really it. And yet, as I write that I know I knew on an intellectual basis. For god's sake she was in Hospice, had signed a DNR. So the question--the signs, register on different levels. The spirit or the soul and the personality changes.
There are definitely physical signs to those of us on the outside that Hospice is clear to share, those last few days, especially. The changes in breathing and the stopping of all intake of food and water is around 100 hours away.
But the leaving itself I think is a subtler thing. Detachment we might call it. Or a Zen perspective. I saw my Polo getting wiser and calmer. She told me that she hoped I would find peace. And one day she came in from being outside and said please write this down for me: "I will pass in wonder and be renewed in awe."
In many ways she made a clean break 10 days before she passed. She woke up in pain, was clear minded when Hospice showed at 10 the next morning, to turn down their offer of moving her to the Hospice house and then cognitively some time during that day she let go of knowing us or her surroundings. The next few days she seemed childlike, in turns joyful over the sight of flowers over and over again the same flowers and the same joy each time she saw them and resistant and stubborn over our attempts to help her physically with anything. Looking back I see this psychologically while I'm sure some will see it physically (she could have had a met to the brain). The person I knew wasn't going to be cared for physically--it wasn't in her DNA.
So how do we know? We know and yet we don't see. And in the aftermath as brilliantly put by Shane Koyczan "I unexpect your death so hard
that a part of me believes I can make it not true." Even now the denial sends me on a search for finding what is next--where do we go?
What I hope, more than anything, is that when it is our own time, we finally see it clearly for what it really is; that we understand and are at peace with it. And I simply can't imagine that all this incredible awesomeness of life and love just ends.
After all of this I am left with the feeling that I don't have an answer to this. Denial is a powerful thing, in our culture and in our quest and thirst for life. I saw varying degrees of denial in family and friends, after all, 6 and a half years of "believing" you are dying and not dying is a reverberating force unto itself. We all have a myriad of ways that we interpret such a fact. One more was my way.
Life partner to Marge Leopold (Pollo65) for 28 years
I met her as "Lee", though her given name was Margie and her professional persona over time became, "Marge". Early on in our relationship she got a piece of junkmail addressed to L. Leo Polo. After that she was "Polo" to me. My little niece, at two (more than twenty-five years ago), gave her what might be her most endearing nickname by excitedly scampering to the door and crying, "E's home! E's home!"