PINELLAS PARK, Fla. – Her breathing labored and quick, her skin mottled with red splotches, Terri Schiavo (search) spent her final moments clinging to one of her beloved stuffed animals. Michael Schiavo was at her side, in the same hospice where he has spent every night since his wife's feeding tube was removed two weeks ago.
It became clear early Wednesday morning that the 41-year-old woman was entering the last stage of her life. Michael Schiavo's (search) attorney, George Felos, arrived at the hospice around 10:30 a.m. that day and, uncharacteristically, didn't leave.
At some point Wednesday evening, Terri Schiavo's breathing became very labored and "we thought the end might be near," said Felos, himself a hospice volunteer. A hospice worker repositioned Schiavo, and that eased her breathing, Felos said.
Michael Schiavo, the only man Teresa Marie Schindler ever dated, spent the night in a small room down the hall from his wife's, as he had every night for the past two weeks. When his wife's family wanted to visit her, he would leave her room — as he did at 7 a.m. Thursday.
This detente worked reasonably well until 8:45 a.m., when hospice officials asked Bobby Schindler and his sister, Suzanne Vitadamo, to leave the room while they did an assessment. At that point, a clearly distraught Schindler got into an argument with one of the officers guarding the room, Felos said.
"We want to be in the room when she dies," the Rev. Frank Pavone, a family supporter, quoted Bobby Schindler as saying.
Felos said the husband's "overriding concern here was to provide for Terri a peaceful death with dignity" and rejected Schindler's request to be present with a police escort.
Around this same time, hospice workers went to Michael Schiavo and told him if he wanted to see his wife before she died, "You'd better come right now."
Michael Schiavo cradled his wife as she clutched a stuffed tabby cat under one of her cold and horribly contracted arms. Looking on were Felos, another attorney, Michael Schiavo's brother, Brian, and several of the hospice workers who had cared for her during her five-year stay there.
A bouquet of white lilies and roses perfumed the room.
Around 9 a.m., Terri Schiavo was dead. Her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler (search), were not on the hospice grounds.
After some time, Michael Schiavo left and allowed the Schindler family to visit with her body. He told them they could take any item from the room that they wanted.
When the Schindlers left, hospice workers bathed Terri Schiavo's body. Michael went to see her one last time before turning her over to the medical examiner for an autopsy.
As she lay on a medical examiner's gurney, about 40 hospice workers formed a circle around her and held their own remembrance.
Around 11 a.m., as protesters outside the hospice gathered around to hear word of her death, two vans slipped out of the hospice grounds, each in a different direction. The person they had fought so hard for had gone.