Ellen-Wayland Smith | Longreads | March 2018 | 15 minutes (4,127 words)

One morning about a year ago I was sleeping on the sofa in my parents’ apartment when I was woken by the sound of my father dying in the next room.

At first I couldn’t tell what the noise was, or even locate where it was coming from. It was a ragged, scraping sound, like metal being pulled through tightly-packed glass. Then it shifted: like someone breathing in a viscous liquid in greedy gulps, aspirating yogurt. When I realized the noises were coming from my father’s throat, I froze.

According to the hospice manual I had scanned the night before, “death rattle” refers to the sound produced by “the pooling of secretions” in the throat after the body loses its ability to cough them up. “The air passing through the mucus causes this sound,” the booklet instructed me…

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