I remember that day clearly. Bjarne had been in the hospital for ten days. Every one of those days I’d sat on the side of his hospital bed, legs curled under me, witnessing cancer hijack his body until I hardly recognized him. Sunken cheekbones. Blond hair gone dark. Pale skin, almost beige, matching the hospital walls. His eyes still blue, but the kind of blue you find in the middle of the ocean. Dusky. Those ten days were truly unbearable.

Late in the morning of the tenth day, it was clear that the end was very close. That’s when the doctors had started to administer the coma-inducing drugs to help with his breathing, and Bjarne turned to me and very quietly said, “Bring the kids. It’s time.” I called my mom to bring the girls as soon as possible. An hour later, the girls stormed into the room and jumped on their dad’s bed. I quietly moved out of their way. “Hi, Daddy,” our older daughter said, climbing onto his chest. Our younger followed. Under the oxygen mask, his mouth widened into a grin, smiling at his girls. He started singing and they joined him. His voice, a distant echo of what it once was, brought back the nights he’d spent singing with the girls while putting them to bed. For a few short seconds, I forgot where we were, and a smile sneaked in. He’d been holding on to all his energy for this moment.

After a few minutes, I could see he was getting tired, his eyes starting to close.

“Girls,” I said, placing my hands on their backs, “it’s time to say good-bye to Daddy.”

“Mommy, no,” my older daughter said. “Not yet.”

“Daddy needs to sleep again, love,” I said, then asked her to give him a kiss.

The girls kissed their dad good-bye. They didn’t know it would be for the last time. But he did. He opened his eyes once again, waved, and gave them his biggest smile.

When the girls left, I leaned over and placed my head on top of his, so he could see me if he opened his eyes. I lay there, holding his hand, my body half on the bed, half off. The morphine drip had started to work.

“Bjarne, it’s my turn to say good-bye now,” I said in my quietest voice. I waited for a response. Nothing. Then he turned his head away from me. He’d spent all his energy on the girls and I couldn’t help but feel robbed of my moment with him. I leaned over him again, trying to get his attention one more time.

“My love. It’s my turn to say good-bye now,” I whispered, a little louder this time. No response. No eye movement. No hand squeezing. The hiss of the oxygen machine, the loud whispering of the nurses and doctors in the hall—everything ear-splitting. For nearly four years, since his cancer diagnosis, I had pictured the moment when we’d say good-bye. It wasn’t turning out the way I’d imagined. I’d always thought we’d hug for hours. Instead, I was begging for a nod and he was silently begging for the end.

From WHERE DID YOU GO?: A Life-Changing Journey to Connect with Those We’ve Lost. Copyright © 2018 by Christina Rasmussen. Reprinted with permission by HarperOne, a division of HarperCollinsPublishers.

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  • Christina Rasmussen is an internationally recognized grief educator and author. Rasmussen has been featured as a "Woman Working to Do Good" on the White House Blog. Her work has also appeared on NPR, ABS News, and MariaShriver.com.