This is It

A person who is terminally ill commonly passes through a series of stages marked by physical and emotional changes that are recognizable to health care professionals. One of the last stages may be referred to as “Actively Dying.” As its name implies, this stage can be physically and emotionally active and, for a caregiver, very difficult. Inviting in someone supportive who has been through this stage before can be helpful.

In contrast, the stage after Actively Dying is calm; eerily quiet, simple. For caregivers, it feels like a long exhale after hours or days of gasping for air. Our loved one is still alive, just resting now before embarking on what many believe is the final journey home.

“This is it,” the nurse tells us, in a tone so tender and kind, it belies the words she is saying. “He won’t wake up now, but he can hear you. You can still give him the comfort and love you have been providing all along.”

A shiver ran through the room, and she continued, “If you see two vertical lines on his forehead, a number eleven, you can give him pain medication sooner than scheduled. This is about comfort now. You did a good job. You are all doing such a good job.”

 

For a Moment

Jorox Canyonby Penny Moore

For a moment

When I sink into the knowing

I feel you breath with His breath

The wind lifting ribbons

We untie ourselves without knowing

I like to hold you passing through

The ribbons gently waving on

The palm of my hand joining

Our passing on One to another

A moment never changes

When you touch it that way

 

 

What are You Trying to Say?

Just before you dropped the call, slammed the door, threw that plate across the room, what single thought went through your brain? Was it a well-composed, carefully crafted sentence, meant to influence and impact someone you care about? Or was it a kind of primal scream, meant to liberate yourself from the mental and emotional anguish of having to deal with… with… that idiot over there? Did it help?

What if time froze in that particular frame? What if that were the last dropped call, the last slam, the last plate in a cupboard that once seemed teeming with plates and cups and bowls? What if the person you wanted to influence went away and the discussion ended, abruptly, permanently, forever? What then?

Relationships end all the time. Family relationships included. Everyone knows about some broken sibling relationship, some father/son breakdown, some daughter who can’t stand the sight of her mother, let alone walk the same sidewalk together. It happens like that all the time. What’s the big deal?

I heard today about a grandparent whose children were factioned. (Is that a word?) At Grandma’s wake, they stood on opposite sides of the casket and never spoke. At the funeral, neither side spoke nor even chose a reading; they let the church volunteers take care of it, rather than try to hold a civil conversation, which they knew was never going to happen. There was no lunch following the service. The burial was silent. They parted once and for all at the gravesite.

Could they have heard each other out? Could they have asked better questions? Could they have let bygones be bygones? Some people experience horrific injustices at the hands of family members. I get that. But more often, it’s some little thing, some disagreement about who was supposed to do something and didn’t, or was supposed to say something and didn’t realize it, or whatever. Usually, if you ask around, the not speaking part was the result of something so minor that sometimes it can’t be pinpointed at all.

So, we don’t eat tuna hotdish together after the funeral. So what? So, what would Grandma want? What are these adults teaching their children? What minor conflict escalated to the point where whole families stood cold shoulder to cold shoulder, buried a parent, and left without a word? Relatives. Blood. Kin. This is how we do loyalty? This is how we do commitment? This is family? Maybe it’s no big deal. But maybe, to the next generation, it might be.

Hospice Physical Care

Hospice Care involves physical, emotional and spiritual work. For some caregivers, providing physical care is a difficult project. Adult children who are successful in other areas of life find physical care to be especially challenging because it does require just a little bit of coordination and forethought, and it might take a few tries to really get it right. Also, it might require intimate contact with someone who lived life very modestly. I know, during my dad’s hospice, I had to leave the room when my sister shaved him every day. It wasn’t a big deal, it just wasn’t something I was used to. Oral care was okay for me, however, and my sister never got used to that. (Takes a village, right?) In hindsight, being able to provide physical care for our dad during his hospice deepened our relationships with this person who had always taken care of us. It was a way to thank him. It was also something we could DO, something we had some control over, in a scene where most everything seemed to resist being predictable and controlled.

Hygiene, Oral Care, Turning, draw sheets… what aspects of bedside care are the most important for hospice family caregivers to understand? How do you explain or teach it to them in the clearest, most effective way?

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Easter Reflections

Easter Reflections

Half-way around the lake, I had to stop and snap this pic. The sun and the trees and the water all intertwined in a way that seemed really cool and kind of meaningful to me as I finished my run.

I think my mind was spinning creative because I (woke up too early and) went to sunrise mass this am, where the conversation was about dandelions, including Walter Wink’s quote about trying to kill Jesus. Do you know that one?

483 Days: Are we there yet?

How do you heal after the death of someone you care about? Someone who cared about you?

Let’s see. It’s been 483 days since that windy Wednesday afternoon when my family said goodbye to our dad. 483 days. Are we healed yet? Am I?

At the one week mark, we were hosting a wake, planning a funeral, burying our dad’s casket in the snow. That was healing.

At the one month mark, we gathered together to handwrite thank you notes to the many, many friends and others who reached out to us during our difficult time. We laughed, we cried, we remembered great times with wonderful people, felt grateful for the presence, for the encouragement, of so many others, and honored our dad’s life and long-reaching legacy. That was healing.

After a few months, we reorganized some holiday traditions because it wasn’t the same without Dad, and we knew it couldn’t and would not have to be the same. That was sad, but healing, too.

By the time the one year mark came around, the anniversary, we all agreed it had become a value to reach out to others who had lost someone. “I didn’t know it mattered,” someone said, “until I knew how much it mattered to me.” “Should I take time off work and fly across the country for her mother’s funeral?” my daughter asked. “Absolutely,” I told her. And she did. And that was healing.

Now, here we are, 1 year 3 months and 27 days later. Are we healed? We are changed. Death is not a transaction; grieving doesn’t have a start and a finish. We likely began grieving long before Dad died. We grieved over his lost car keys, his diminished ability to play piano, his fading interest in politics and football. We grieved around his lost mobility and his waning appetite. We grieved for his unique ability to communicate, to tell a story, to recount an event that had happened years before. We started grieving long before that bitter evening in December, 2012.

And we will grieve on. But like us as people, our grief is changed. We look at a photo and smile. We remember a story and call a sibling to share the memory, to laugh and enjoy and appreciate and celebrate the memory we are so fortunate to have. Strength is unleashed as we move through our grief.

483 days. Healed? Never. Better? Much.