You’ve probably heard that hearing is the last sense to lose before dying, and hospice nurses encourage you to talk to the person even though they cannot respond. When my mother had a stroke three years ago and was in the hospital, my brother held the phone up to her ear so that I could say my final thank you and farewell. I didn’t know whether she heard me or not, because at that point she couldn’t answer me.
On Wednesday morning, when I woke up at 5:30 am, I thought that Carl Crosier had suffered a stroke, because his body was completely paralyzed — he could neither move his arms or legs, and I found him with his head wedged between the mattress and the bed frame. When I spoke to him, his speech was slurred and his answers unintelligible. I immediately called the hospice nurse to assess his condition and the decision was made to transport him to a hospice facility at St. Francis West in Ewa Beach. While we were waiting, I called Father David Gierlach who came shortly to read scripture and prayers. When we got to the Lord’s Prayer portion of the service, Carl made some noises like he was saying those familiar phrases with us.
Shortly after we arrived at St. Francis West, Carl became completely unresponsive and was unable to speak at all. John Renke joined Carl’s sister, Carol, and me around his bedside, and he pulled up Bach Cantata 106 from YouTube, Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit (God’s time is the best time), with Gustav Leonhardt conducting. It was a beloved recording we had played many times, and after the familiar strains of the opening sinfonia, a miracle happened. At the beginning of the opening chorus, Carl lifted his left hand and started to conduct! It was truly a miracle, because we knew he was unable to move his arms and legs! The three of us were witnesses to Carl’s hearing this most beloved Bach work, which you can hear in the video link above.
The next day, Thursday, I felt like I was a “deathbed deejay,” as I tried to find sound files on YouTube that Carl might enjoy. Here are some of the pieces I played for him, all Bach:
Cello suite no. 1, prelude
Cantata BWV 150, Nach dir, Herr, verlanget mich (we have performed this for funerals many times)
From the St. Matthew Passion, Erbarme dich (Andreas Scholl, countertenor)
From the Mass in B minor, Agnus Dei (Andreas Scholl, countertenor)
At that point, we didn’t know he could hear any of the music. But after I played this next selection for him, Carl’s sister said to me, “He must know that piece!” It was the Dona nobis pacem from Bach’s B-Minor Mass! the last piece, Carl conducted in concert. After the triumphant conclusion of the piece, Carl was visibly moved and we saw tears come down from his eyes.
So when you hear people say that “hearing is the last sense to go,” you’d better believe it!