Updated: Mar 13, 2019
It’s been several months since I have written. My mind has been flowing with thoughts, but my fingers could not put it into words. My mom has died and I needed time to cement that into my being. It is an odd notion; however, I hope that sharing it will be helpful to others.
It’s been a time to reflect and understand the stages of my mom’s dementia. In reflection I see the many gifts that came my way; the gifts to take care of her, advocate on her behalf, help ease her pain and distress. These gifts ultimately led to my own gift of personal growth.
The pain, distress, frustration, anger and yes, even the pleading for her suffering to be over, has begun to fade. My mom was fortunate to afford round the clock care which allowed her to die at home, surrounded by her family. She did not become agitated or combative. She did not wander outdoors or time travel. My mom lost interest, lost feeling pleasure, lost her ability to eat, to walk, and to engage in conversation. She stopped being. She developed pneumonia and slowly slipped away.
It’s never easy to watch a loved one die, however fortunate for her to go so quickly. I know this may sound awful, but with all my years of experience personally and professionally, I know this to be true. I’ve cared for many with dementia who have lingered, who have been tortured by emotional pain, who suffered unable to hold on to or incorporate what was once comforting, whether family relationships or religious beliefs; as with the deterioration of the brain, so goes these comforts.
For my dad, it was agony to sit at a table set for 2, but there was only 1. To no longer have a partner to reminisce where they’ve been and dream where they are going next. It was heartbreaking. It was heartbreaking to think 63 years of marriage have been lost. And his last loving act was holding her hand and kissing her forehead goodbye. I believe he felt a sense of relief that she was finally at peace.
As I reflect on my mom’s final months, weeks, and days, I have no regrets with decisions I made for her or my involvement in her care. When she developed pneumonia, I called in Hospice which practiced palliative care. No one anticipated her going so quickly, 2 weeks and it was over. I am grateful we were able to keep her home, comfortable, surrounded by all she loved.
In the end, while my mom laid in her hospital bed, in the bedroom she had shared with my dad for 63 years, the sparkle in her eyes dulled, an occasional verbal response elicit only when turning her, her breathing was erratic, and my family surrounding her. We told stories, reminisced, laughed, cried, and even begged for and offered forgiveness for past difficulties. It was a time of life review, learning, and making new memories. And even though my mom didn’t add her favorite memory or share a secret, she was present; I know she heard us all. The room was alive and for the living. Healing occurred, forgiveness given, new bonds were formed, as life will forever be changed.
My brother, whom had never sat by the bedside of a loved one dying alluded to how the stages of death is similar to birth. We hold on to every breathe, death is a birth, the birth of the new life we all live going forward.
Actively participate in the living and dying process. Actively think about and make decisions regarding how much involvement you want. Talk, share, laugh, cry, hold hands, sit quietly, and pray. As we conclude one chapter in our lifetime and attempt to figure out the next, be in charge, leave regrets behind and expand on the new gifts you have just received.