Sunday, November 16, 2008

Celebration of Death - planned departure from life

It is with a great deal of confidence that I say these words are not normally connected. This is a story where this was quite the case. Although sad to lose a loved one, you want your loved one to leave this world surrounded by love and appreciation for who you have been and best wishes for next steps of existence. That is of course unless you are adamant that there is no after life. And even then, most people will most likely bend towards the possibility anyway that there may be something in store for the person about to depart. Whatever the opinion on this matter, if you get the opportunity to celebrate a death, it can be a very satisfying event. No, it will not change your grief of losing someone you have loved perhaps your entire lifetime, nor will it remove the sadness that death simply must be a part of life. It does bring the picture into focus and let's you have those final moments with your loved one, celebrating life's joys, accomplishments. Hope and aspiration are gone at this point. Those things are left with the ones you are leaving behind.

We had this opportunity. It sort of fell in our laps. One of my sons and I discussed this idea when the doctor said it was about over. She was now on life support systems and there was no hope that she would ever be able to live independent of them. She directed us to pull the plug if that situation ever arose in her health. My mother had been fighting a multi-organ failure, caused by a fall and lying on a hard floor for about 36 hours. For one month in the hospital ICU she fought kidney failure, heart issues, digestive system failure, and severe skin failures. She was 87 and carried with into the hospital the goal to live to be at least 90. She had things to do, places to go. It was clear from the onset that she was to going to go down without a string battle. This was bothersome to the staff at the hospital. They wanted her to be without pain, totally comfortable. That is another story to be told. The point here is that she really did fight to recover. However, at every turn where she would improve, another thing would go wrong. The final blow was her lungs. She could no longer respire on her own, constantly battling new outbreaks of liquid on her lungs.

At 11AM, we met with the staff to discuss her condition. The decision was made to let her go. We would pull the respirator off. The doctor said it could take a few hours for her to pass away, but she would do so within 24 hours afterward. So the idea - let's take her off of the medicines that are keeping her sedated and unable to be conscious but keep her on pain medicine. The hospital staff resisted that idea but we won out in the debate, although we allowed some of the sedation on their advice but little of it. We called close friends and family to tell them what was going to happen. We would not take her off the respirator until the evening when everyone could get there. Some might have to travel some distance.

That afternoon, the sedatives began to dwindle in their effect. We had actually lowered them by request the night before but the staff had increased them in the morning, so we reversed that and by mid-afternoon she was able to communicate with her eyes and follow us by moving her head.During this time, we chose to be with her and watch her vital signs. At 6PM came the doctor.

He with the help from an assistant removed most of the tubes and then the breathing apparatus. Her food intake and other medical treatments by tube continued. The tubes for the kidneys were also removed. Everything to make her more comfortable! We had arranged for a CD player to be brought in and her bible was close at hand so that we could read to her.

The room began to fill rapidly. We made sure she knew when every person who came into the room. Her favorite hymn music was being played and one member of the family sat on either side of the bed holding her hands and occasionally hugging her. We would talk about things of the past and what was coming for the family. We talked about celebration - her life. It had indeed been a beautiful and long life. She had even a great great grandchild. Her children had lived a religious life and been successful. Some of her grandchildren had joined her church also. She had been a fine example to all of us and all of us wanted to be like her, accomplishing things, being a contributor to family successes throughout our lives. Yep, 87 years of continual service to God and family, well worth a celebration in which she should participate. And she did, as weak as she was, participate in her own celebration of life. She would soon enter into the world of the dead

Immediately after the respirator was cut off from her, she breathed rapidly and gasped for breath. I talked to her about how to make that easier and she changed to deep breaths. The oxygen level in her blood was not sufficiently high to sustain life for very long, so we understood that she was in a departing process. We would have been quite happy if that had been reversed but it did not. This would be better for her now and we knew it.

Now she was dying. Her heart continued to beat as it did before. There was a glimmer of hope in my mind, but I was prepared for the end. We talked. We laughed. We loved. As we changed who was next to her and as time passed, things being discussed about her and us and how we had finally reached where we were, her friends and some family had to get something to eat and get some rest. We had celebrated and the night was upon us. So after some three hours, the room quietened. Within five minutes, she gave up with two of her grandchildren by her side. I received a text message and then a call - "better come back". We ran. Her last heartbeats were showing on the monitor. We sat with her as she passed away, letting her brain cells fail and her heart to totally quit. She was dead. We cried. "She has gone to a better place." It is now the wait she has and hope in death for her savior's return. That was surely on her mind at the very end. Her family and friends had said good-by with great love! She can rest in peace.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Anxiety in the middle of the night

Having lost a loved one very recently, I am realizing there are parts to life one recognizes deep in the mind, which are evasive when all is calm and routine. When life's balance is interrupted by tragedy or unexpected death, or even expected death in the family, the human mind can reel off various triggers as one sleeps. Such a trigger went off this morning, alerting me subconsciously that something was wrong. Then the conscious part of the brain too over and I woke up. Not to forget the incident and in fact share it, I am writing this little entry into the blog.

So what happened? Nothing and that was the problem. For years, I have looked after my 87 year old mom who lives in another city, making sure someone was doing something for her or someone had something planned for her, or I had contacted her and said something to her to please her and make her feel loved.

I woke up in panic mode, thinking I had not done anything for a long time and had let things slip.

She passed away six weeks ago. Lesson? Be there for your parents when they get old. Make sure they are part of your daily routine. They will not be there forever and time moves so quickly! Part of liv'n is dying. We all know that. Also part of liv'n is caring and making sure those who are dying get to enjoy that which remains. We may be less aware of that. Everyone living is dying. We are probably too busy to realize this. There is less urgency in it.