When You Washed Her Back


The nurses and hospice staff kept asking me if I wanted them to give Michelle a bath.

I said no the first few times, I didn’t want to disturb her.

I was scared.

Every time she would get up she would suffer from God awful hallucinations  

She was finally resting comfortably and I didn’t want to take any chances.

‘How do you feel about us giving her a bath today John?’ they asked again – for the third day in a row.

After asking a handful of questions to ensure that she would not wake up, or be disturbed, I reluctantly agreed.

As they prepared to give my wife her sponge bath, I was nervous. And I was scared.

She was teetering on sixty pounds at this point. So fragile. So close to the end.

They told me they were about to begin so I went and sat on the couch in her room, just about ten feet from the hospice bed which had now become her home.

In walked Kim, Michelle’s friend.

‘They’re about to give her a bath,’ I said. Frazzled.

‘Oh,’ she said back.

I gently shook my head, as to show her my concern.

As I looked over, I could see the one nurse removing Michelle’s shirt, while the other nurse closed the curtain.

Her back.

I saw her back.

The back that I use to massage.

The back that I use to kiss.

‘You have the sexiest back,’ I would tell her often.

‘You’re so weird John, it’s a back!’ she would say back with a chuckle.

‘No, it’s your back,’ I would respond.

That back.

Her back.

The one that I loved.

That wasn’t the back I saw on that cold January day.

What I saw was something that scared me, and scarred me.

Something that is still embedded into my brain today, just over seventeen months later.

A back so thin, so brittle and so worn – that a husband could not help but be forever damaged from the sight.

‘Would you mind if I helped them John?’ Kim asked.

‘Bathe her?’ I responded back, surprised.

‘Yes,’ she responded.

‘No, not at all.’

To others, it might seem like a simple act of kindness.

A routine gesture from a friend wanting to help and care for a beautiful soul who was nearing the end of her human experience.

But to me, it was so much more.

To me, it was an act of love that would provide a comfort to Michelle, when I could not do it.

To me, it was one of my wife’s favorite people caring for her, in a moment in which I was incapable.

To me, it was – and is, a memory that stays with me to this today.

So heart felt and genuine, that is balances out the horror of an otherwise awful moment.



  1. // Reply

    Truth. The truth about being human is carried in your words about her back. Your words hit me hard and left my heart with a sadness that I can feel. That you could speak this truth and put it out there for all to see must be very painful. My heart sends hope, healing and love to you.

  2. // Reply

    Aw your love streaming through the pain. I remember washing my husbands back about an hour and a half before he passed. He wanted a bath but he said he had to pee so we were multitasking. While I was bathing the top half of him he was telling me how much he appreciated my care over the last four years. and of course all our years together. I had no idea he was going to be gone so soon. To think our last intimate moments we spent with him on the toilet. But it left a wonderful memory in my heart. After he was gone I had to finish bathing him.No one else was there but me and I am sure this is how he wanted it.

    Your blog is Beautiful. So totally from the heart. Bless you for putting this out there to show what really goes on behind the scenes of dying.

  3. // Reply

    Thank you…….I was my mothers caregiver, she had Alzheimer’s….. When my moms best friend died my mom went to the funeral home, my mom was 89, she demanded to see the body, she brought fingernail polish and did her friends nails, she put as special piece of jewelry on her jacket, she double checked her makeup…!she even put some channel 5 on her, her friends favorite….her friend had one son and she had told mom, please make sure these things are done, he don’t think of them

  4. // Reply

    John…I just read “When you washed her back…and I can barely hold on now…Went through the same thing before my wife passed, but I bathed her
    Sherry passed on Feb 23 this year, after nearly 34 years of marriage…dying from esophageal cancer. It forced me to inter her on the 35th anniversary of the day that we first met… the 27th of Feb. 1983.
    I always kind of saw myself as a writer, and posted the last journey we took on Facebook as she neared the end of her life…and have been told it was an inspiration to many that read it…but that is not why i wrote it…for me it was cathartic, allowing me to heal from the day as I shared it with others.
    Every day is a trial now, “being Brave” in this world so that others don’t see my pain and shy away is often more than I can endure…thanks for sharing this…it is just so real…

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