In Spanish we have a word for slowly succumbing to mortality: agonizar. Although it accurately and vividly portrays a painful physical progression of fatal maladies, it also depicts the emotional and mental struggle of letting go of life. Sometimes the lyricism of Spanish astonishes me, overwhelming me with emotion -- even when it is a word that I know in my head, sometimes, I do not know it in my heart until something in particular happens. Then the poetry of the meaning washes over me in a stunning recognition of how big language can be.
We have another word in Spanish associated with sickness, grief and time: velar. It intimates that we are never alone in this process because it means to sit and watch, to literally guard through the night. It suggests a candle (vela) to light our way, and a shield (veil) and it is the word we use for wake - oddly connoting wakefulness though it also seems to insinuate the long night where you either fight off sleep or cannot seem to get sleep. It strikes me now as I write this it is also code for witnessing.
In our culture, this kind of guarding is almost never done alone -- the one in agony and the one guarding and those who support those who wait. Sometimes it is the mother waiting at the bedside of a sick child and sometimes it is the family waiting at a loved one's bedside either before or after he had passed. For the past few nights, my mom and aunt had been sitting at my uncle's bedside at the hospital as he slipped into his long good night.
Interestingly, it was a time for them to also reconcile with the inevitability of my uncle's mortality as well as to be there for comfort and support. They were there to witness the leaving of a body, the freeing of the soul, the ending of the suffering...