I had just finished feeding the cats when Dennis stirred from a deep sleep with a request. His voice sounded urgent and firm.
“I want my glasses. I want my camera.”
His clarity surprised me. The combination of Morphine, Haldol, and the toxins building up in his brain had rendered him nearly inarticulate. The day before, he had spoken to me in tongues.
Dennis’s cancer had begun in his prostate. But over the last two years, his CT scans had lit up with black spots, as if his bones were becoming riddled with buckshot. Now the cancer had invaded his skull. In the most recent images, his entire head was black — a beret of cancer.
Dennis could barely hear; nor could he see well.
“Is it dark or blurry?” I had yelled a week earlier.
“Blurry,” he yelled back.
Well, at least he wasn’t blind.
I handed Dennis his glasses and his phone. At first, he held it in landscape and then turned the screen to portrait. He pointed it at a spot at the end of his hospital bed.
He took one picture.
He handed me his phone and his glasses. He went back to sleep.
I didn’t look, not then.
That evening, as Dennis slept, I pulled up the picture.
This is what I saw: A darkened TV screen, a ceiling fan. His feet beneath a sheet.
This is what he saw: Something I could not.
After Dennis died the next morning, his hospice nurse, Pat, told me she believed that he had seen his spirit guide. In their final days, she said, many people have visions of their loved ones — floating near the ceiling, sitting in a corner of the room, leaning over the bed. Pat believed in these guides. She had no doubt someone had come for him, and that he wanted to take their picture.
When I look at this photo now, I strain my eyes to detect what Dennis felt so desperate to capture: a shadow, an apparition, a kind face that will allow me to lift the veil between this plane and the next. But I can’t see anything. It’s not my time.