Facebook, June 13
When my mother died, Charles was out of the room getting breakfast. This is very common – dying people often wait until they are alone. In her case, she was always “on” when people were visiting, the “hostess with the mostest”, so I can imagine her wanting to remain present while someone was there. Fortunately, he had been told in advance that this might happen, so he didn’t feel bad about it. A good thing to know.
This was followed by a dozen comments by people relating similar experiences, and only one who was present when her loved one died. Also:
I am facing this in my own family with my husband. June’s family sharing their journey had helped me immensely. My dream is to set up a Hospice care program in this area similar to what they have in the UK. Here’s hoping.
Yes, we need more options for care of the dying. Happily for my mother, she was able to stay in the hospital where she was comfortable and the nurses loved her. She received appropriate palliative care: a private room, comfort care and adequate pain control. We considered taking her home, but her needs for nursing care were too great and she was declining quickly. There is no palliative care wing at South Shore Health, but I was glad to see that the staff there “got the memo” re palliative procedures. If she had “stabilized” and been discharged, choices would have been to go home (too taxing on our personal resources without hiring someone), wait for a nursing home bed (which would mean waiting on the alternative care ward in FMH, for months, then the first available bed within 100 km, hopefully not in a place with mould), or straight to an expensive private nursing home.
Now that it’s over, I can say that my mother’s death, and the way we dealt with it, has left me with none of the cognitive dissonance, “I can’t believe she’s gone” feeling that happens when people die unexpectedly or far away. My stepfather is experiencing the same thing, probably my siblings too. My body knows it, my emotions know it, my mind knows it and my soul knows it. They were all fully engaged in the last weeks. There was no denial going on. Telling the story as it went along helped me too, though it isn’t for everyone, and that’s ok. The important thing is to be present and to be real about what’s happening.
My father, who lived with us, had a heart attack one day and died the next, still in the ICU but with a clear DNR (do not resuscitate) order. Again there was no denial, but there wasn’t as much time to assimilate it, plus he left a big hole in our daily lives. I was more affected after he died than I am now. Differences in the relationships I had with each parent are other, unmeasurable factors.
I, too, am finding our process has given me a far different feeling than when Dad died. Much more connected. The degree of your openness, Heather Holm, certainly pushed my comfort level all along, but offered a grounding. Looking at the pictures now, and remembering how mom looked to the end is valuable. Everyone I talk to (mind you most of these people are health professionals but not all) are impressed with how we went through it together, bringing meaning and joy to the last of her life for all of us.
One big factor that made it work for us was unity. Everyone in the family was able to accept that she was dying; no one was pushing for more medical intervention. Such things can tear families apart (I hear stories). We also had a template developed from Dad’s death (which owed a lot to him and his parents’ deaths) – e.g. going into the crematorium ourselves, Mike making an urn for the ashes, etc. People should establish very clear final directives in case their family is not united in purpose as we were – which is something you may not know until the time comes. I wasn’t 100% sure there wouldn’t be some points of contention, but she went quickly enough that there wasn’t time for controversy. The doctors were also really good with communication and making sure of her wishes.