Agonal Breaths

Agonal breathing is described as an arrhythmic breathing pattern, usually associated with great pain and discomfort, and generally comes at the end of a creature’s life, whether human or animal.

I have seen agonal breathing at my job on several occasions. I see an animal as it comes to the end of its life take deep, gasping breaths, and for the untrained person, it is horrifying, heartbreaking, and simply put – just plain awful. It’s the final sound one hears from one’s precious loved one – again, both human and animal.

I think, therefore, that it’s only fitting to describe divorce, as the agonal breathing of a marriage. The pain is so great that the person(s) experiencing it cannot even breath normally. In physiological terms, if normal breathing patterns are not restored, the patient will most certainly die from lack of oxygen. The breaths, while deep and gulping, are not nearly enough to supply the entire body with enough oxygen for survival.

So what do you do with the being once the breathing has stopped and the life has drained completely out with an undeniable finality? Burial? Cremation? Funeral? Memorial service? It all depends on who is left behind. Who is left to pick up the pieces and move on? Who is left empty and broken, but still required to continue living?

2016 was a strange year for humanity in general. So many famous figures died that were young and vibrant before their deaths: David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Prince, George Michael, just to name a few. Then December hit. Carrie Fisher had a heart attack. A few days later she was gone. The very next day, her mother followed. It was as if her heart was completely broken and her will to survive left when Carrie did.

Divorce feels that way. Regardless of who left or for what reasons, the finality of divorce is SO. HARD. A line has been drawn in the sand and is labeled “divorce.” Everything that came before it or comes after the line is BD (before divorce) or AD (after divorce). The line that separates the two points in time is shifting in width and depth. But regardless, it is absolute. There is no going back–only forward. And in order to go forward, it is really essential to look forward and not back. As the great “poet” Will Rogers once said, “even if you are on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”

So how does one move forward? How on earth do you pull yourself up, pick up the remnants of a past forever tainted by that line, and take that first step? How, with the final agonal breaths of your marriage ringing in your ears, do you go on?

There is a reason agonal sounds like agony. I have no idea if the agonal breaths are painful for the dying creature, but it is pure agony for those left behind. So how do you go on?

Each step is difficult. Each step is at times sloppy and slippery. Other times it is deliberate and slow-going. The important thing is that you keep going.

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Divorced. Mom. Friend. Writer. That's who I am.
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