You know that feeling, it’s the feeling of being in a room and all eyes are on you. You are expected to know every answer. You are expected to solve every problem. You should have the right words to comfort. You need to be able … Continue reading Can Do
A few weeks ago, I was seated around the bedside of a mother and grandmother, talking with her children. The patient was dancing between this world and the next, so peacefully and her daughters were just relived that she was finally reaching the end of a years long struggle. It had glorious highs with hopeful prognosis and soul crushing lows which caused this family to close ranks and focus on what meant the most to them. When mom decided that she was ready to enjoy what life she had left without doctor’s appointments and scans – without nausea so profound she was unable to open the blinds and without such exhaustion that even lifting her hand to caress the face of her granddaughter was a struggle, her family supported her choice. That was about four months ago and hospice was called in. Our paths crossed there and brought us here. To this moment.
As she lay there, her breathing slowing down, if you could imagine the batting of a butterfly’s wings, so elegant and graceful, her daughters started to tell me stories of the precancerous life. At one point during a very animated moment, both daughters started laughing recounting a moment when Mom attempted to absentmindedly bake a cake and used powdered sugar instead of flour. They both turned to me, with shock, and said “Oh my God, Helen… Mom is dying and we are laughing! Is that allowed?” “Of course it is! I am sure she can hear you and is loving it all!” The girls went on to share more stories and Mom peacefully passed. The soft smile on her face proof that she loved every moment of their loving laughter.
So, what is allowed when someone is dying? It’s not like Emily Post wrote about it or for you younger folk that you can search it on Wikipedia. As a hospice nurse, I have seen the gamut of emotions. The rainbow of feelings that one’s passing elicits is vast. Let me tell you what I think is ok… again… full disclaimer… my blog… my opinion. Don’t forget… I am a loud, sassy, emotional and heart on my sleeve Greek woman, so some folks might not agree. I digress
It is ok to cry.
I am going to say that again, it is ok to cry. That means everything from the single tear to the please hand me a tissue because the snot is overtaking me crying. No one has the right to dictate how you cry. I will put one exception here, I have seen, mostly in very small villages where people throw themselves on the deceased or dying person and caused them harm. Please don’t do that. Cry all you want. Don’t forget tissues and waterproof eye make up.
It is ok to laugh. Working in this death business, I often think about what it might be like when I go. Do I want people sitting around sobbing over me? No way! Especially if I am still there and hearing is the last sense to go! I want to hear the stupid stories about how my brother tried to make me ride a goat when I was 5 and got lice. Laugh! Heck, laugh till you cry. It’s ok.
It is ok to feel conflicted. Death or dying brings so many emotions. How could you not be conflicted? Think of that period as a almost a time you are sifting for gold. You have all the sandy sediment junk on top, but, in time, as you move through the emotional stages, you will find the gold. Yes, you will miss that person, but, there is goodness that comes from death. It’s not always easy to see.
It is ok to be angry. Sometimes, people are angry at the person that is dying for not trying hard enough with treatments. That’s their choice. You might not agree with it, but, you do have to respect it. While it’s ok to be angry for a while, it’s not ok to stay angry… that’s an emotion that needs working through as soon as possible.
It’s ok to recount, recall, tell stories, make jokes (ok, maybe not crude ones)… all of those things help people begin to heal.
It’s ok to scream in a pillow when you are alone
It’s ok to eat a pint of ice cream while crying (not that this is from personal experience… tears and chocolate almond are yummy)
It is ok to see a therapist. No one is a fortress. It’s ok and really healthy to ask for health when dealing with all of these emotions.
Death just doesn’t change the life of the one dying. It changes the lives of everyone.
It’s funny how life comes full circle. Think about a young child – we love to take them to the zoo or to the aquarium in order to be amazed with what they can see. We feed them to make sure they don’t make a mess. We toilet them to make sure that they go. Songs are sung to comfort them. Sometimes, a bear or a blanket become the safest and most comforting things. With all of those descriptions, one would think that I was really into pediatrics. Sadly, I’m not. What I have described are the exact things done and given to the elderly in many facilities.
Some facilities are nicer than others. There are activities, outings, a low patient to caregiver ratio, the halls are decorated and they don’t feel so clinical. As I was typing, I realized that those are some of the same things that I would look for if I was investigating a preschool for my child. Will they be mean to my loved one? Will they be able to watch over them when I cannot to ensure that they don’t get hurt? Will they be able to continually stimulate their mind or will they get plopped in front of a tv? See what I mean? Very similar concerns.
This one Cadillac of facilities has several fish tanks with gorgeous fish. There are floor to ceiling bird cages with all sorts of delightful birds. There is a massive aquarium with the largest eel I have ever seen. Now, to me, that eel is what nightmares are made of. But, if I think about it from an elderly person’s point of view, it’s something that they can see, it’s large and bright and maybe they get lost in thoughts of freedom, just like that eel swimming so freely.
Sometimes, as I am assessing a patient, our eyes meet and it’s almost like I am pulled into their world. Perhaps it’s my own worries and fears, but, it feels like I lose my breath thinking of the frustration and anguish they must feel. Their bodies have betrayed them. Those once nimble fingers that threaded needles are now bulky and awkward. The feet that once held them up for hours as they worked in the mills now collapse with the slightest weight. The loss of dignity. The loss of identity. The loss of control. The loss of humanity. The thought is searingly bad.
I guess that’s maybe why certain facilities have the things they do. The ability to express themselves is gone. Locked in a body that is steadily falling apart, perhaps the fish and birds grasp their attention enough to forget about their world for even just a moment. Distraction. Just as a toddler is distracted when they are in the midst of a tantrum, so too are their counterparts. I guess the circle of life really is just that… a circle. Keep them safe, keep them distracted and keep them….