In Her Time of Dying: Reflections on the Day

December 27th, 2011

We came up with a loose plan of action for funeral/cremation arrangements. I called several places locally to get rates, and am shocked at the cost of death. One place I called had a rate of nearly $3,500 for a cremation alone. No memorial service, no burial, no minister – just converting my mother’s body to ashes and sticking her in a case. It’s almost disgusting how outrageous the prices are. One can’t help but feel that the death industry preys on grieving people and takes advantage by charging high prices that mourning families don’t know any better but to pay.

Anyway. My brother and I stepped out for a little while for a coffee break and to talk with extended family members in regards to the upcoming plans. It has been essential to both of us to get away from the unit; to interact with families who are not going through the stages of grief and to feel somewhat normal. We talked about wedding plans, – I failed to mention that the day my brother came down here he proposed to his girlfriend! – had coffee, joked, and then got down to the business of calling funeral homes and our family members.

I am angry, annoyed, and agitated that my mother was in so much denial about her health that she avoided making these types of decisions and plans for herself while she was able. It’s not like the subject wasn’t broached; both my brother and I suggested getting her plans started even before she fell ill and my brother in particular was met with vehement hostility. Now, he and I and her partner Ellen are left scrambling to make plans by what we think her final wishes were. We have no idea what that is, so all we can do it guess based on what we knew of her. It’s a little easier for Ellen and my brother because they knew her better than I. Ellen was with her for the last nine years of her life, and Drew (brother) had more good years in his childhood than I did. I got about eight years before our family unit began to disintegrate and I literally have to dig and delve to find good memories of my mom that aren’t tainted and shadowed by bad ones.

As we walked back through the hospital we talked, we rounded that corner I’ve spoken so much about and the hospice unit doors came into sight, I found myself chilled by the cold reality of our situation once more. I wonder if it will ever feel less shocking? If after a nice break, the return to the hospice unit won’t feel quite so heavy?

I miss my husband and my daughter. I’ve been going home each night to sleep, because I can’t stay here overnight. That is my limit. I have to be home in my bed with them and I’ve felt some guilt about that, but at the same time I just cannot stay here. I’m going back to work tomorrow (not sure how useful I will be) after almost a week in crisis mode and it’s going to be very strange to not be around respirators, oxygen masks, and the feeling of death engulfing me in a strange and morbid embrace. My coworkers and bosses have been amazing, offering support, lunch, coffee, and the most important and helpful; schedule flexibility and freeing me from the burden of having to worry about my hours and pay.

Josh (my husband) has been feeling helpless, I know. He hasn’t been here much with me, instead he’s been caring for our curly-headed tot and honestly that is where I need him. Nellie knows something is up and misses me. I know she does. I would be considerably more stressed and worried if he were not there and she was worrying about his absence as well. I feel very strongly that I need her daddy there. I may feel differently if my brother has to go home to Milwaukee before all of this is over, but for now he and I have each other to lean on… I still go home each night and vent, talk, and sometimes cry to Josh. He has been an amazing support, whether he realizes it or not.

I know I’ve already posted once today but I had the opportunity to kind of sit and reflect with my thoughts the events of this day, and I felt compelled to post again. I’m not sure what the evening brings.. I’ve been keeping the ringer on my phone up and expecting THAT call each and every night. I am surprised with each dawn that comes and my mother is still alive. I know that soon, I will wake and she won’t be here.

We’ll deal with that when we come to it.

In Her Time of Dying

One of the most powerful urges I’ve experienced during this whirlwind that began when I received a frantic phone call last Wednesday evening was the urge to write. I wrote a short post on Christmas when we first admitted mom to Hospice and didn’t write again until today. I toyed with the idea of not posting that first entry, but I decided to share it because it is how I felt when I first got here. I want to chronicle the evolution of my feelings… My blog has never really experienced nor contained anything this heavy. Not even my miscarriage was this heavy. So if thoughts of death, dying, and details (not gory details, but some details of my mother’s physical state) bother you feel free to skip this. I will not be offended. But perhaps you know someone who is also going through this. Perhaps that person is you. And maybe reading this will make you or someone else not feel quite so alone in what you’re experiencing. I’ve decided to call this chronicle In Her Time of Dying.

December 25th, 2011

I step out of the elevator, turn the corner and reach the doors that I have to walk through. I pause as I read the sign talking about how family and friends are welcome, but to be quiet and respectful within.

Dying people need quiet and respect.

I push the heavy double doors open and step inside. I gaze down the long hallway; eying the doors that hold people whose time is running out inside. I take my first step towards her room, my footfalls echoing on the hardwood floor.

I hate it here. It is secluded, peaceful and clean and the nurses are sweet. But still I hate it here. I am afraid. I  am uncomfortable. This is a place of finality; a place of whispered apologies, forgiveness.  A place of tears and memories shared.

I didn’t have quite as big of a problem in the first unit, the critical care unit, because in that waiting room people were waiting to see what was going to happen. Waiting for their loved ones to get better. Here, we are all only waiting for one thing:

Death.

The air is heavy with the promise of it. Here, it is guaranteed. In the rest of the hospital people have babies, mend broken legs, have surgeries but here in the hospice unit, there is only one thing that happens here. The faces of the families who wander the hallways are all the same: tired, grief-striken, confused, numb.

I reach her room and enter and I am gripped with a sudden urge to turn and flee back the way I came. This is the closest I have ever been to death and a dying person and I want to run away and pretend this is not happening. I do not run. Instead, venture into the room and stand beside the bed where my mother lies dying.

I look down at her, discomfort and anxiety filling me from head to toe. We haven’t had the best relationship; my mother and I and I would actually venture to say that it has been a bad relationship. I harbor a lot of bad, resentful, angry feelings toward her that I’m struggling to let go because they don’t matter anymore.

I hate it here.

Dec 27th, 2011

I’ve come to feel slightly more comfortable with the concept of this place. We’ve met a lot of really nice people. Very supportive people and staff. The nurses, the counselors, the chaplins are all amazing folks. We are at a Catholic hospital, which worried me at first considering we aren’t even remotely Christian/Catholic. But everyone – with the exception of one nurse who thought it would be a good idea to get into my mother’s face last night when she thought that the end had come and asked her if she had accepted Jesus Christ into her heart as her personal Lord and Savior – has been not pushy or evangelical at all.

My brother, Ellen and I have been talking about what to do after mom dies. It’s not an upsetting conversation so much as it is a weird one. Talking about cremation, burial, eulogies, and other things of that unpleasant nature while the person you’re talking about is still alive in the other room is very surreal and strange.

Mom’s breathing has changed. I watched her chest today moving in and out; it was like it was caving in every time she inhaled. She’s working hard to breathe. Part of that is because we’ve turned her oxygen off completely. She’s been pulling her mask off herself almost since she first got to the hospital. It is the one thing she’s been able to control and has been very clear about, and since she can no longer communicate we made the decision for her to leave it off. Her skin is a dusky gray combined with the yellowish orange of jaundice. She twitches and flails occasionally, which the hospice nurses said was normal and a part of the body’s preparation for death.

Every noise, every beep, I think is the end. Just when I feel like I’ve come to terms with the actual process of her dying, a false alarm happens and I feel like I’m going to panic. I’m not sure where the root of the feeling is; when thinking of everything else I feel very ambivalent and numb but when I think that the actual moment of her death is nigh, my pulse quickens and I feel like I want to throw up. I am scared, I am panicky, and I think it is because I don’t know how I’m going to feel when it does happen. I am so very skilled at stuffing and masking my emotions that when this woman who has caused me so much misery, pain, and anxiety is no longer alive to poison me with her toxicity, I’m not sure what my emotions will be or how powerfully they will come. I am afraid to feel them.

I took a long walk around the hospital today, wandering nowhere in particular to clear my head and stretch my bones. I strolled slowly, without a real destination and observed the different feelings of the wings I walked through. I prowled the hallways of the critical care unit, where this journey began and remembered the feeling of fear and uncertainty I felt our entire stay there. I visited the surgery waiting room, where there was a similar air of anxiety and questions waiting to be answered hanging in the air. I wish this hospital were a place where babies were born. I would have liked to have passed through the waiting rooms filled with proud grandparents and relatives waiting to greet a brand new life… That would have been a breath of fresh air before I returned to the place where people are waiting to meet death. My feet carried me to a coffee shop, and back again down the hallway leading to the hospice unit. As I rounded the corner and saw the double doors I noticed that the air  changes once you reach this part of the hospital. It hums around you with a quiet respect and dignity; it is not necessarily heavier but it is more solemn. It’s a feeling of finality; the closing of a chapter on the lives of each and every person who has someone in this unit.

I wondered as I wandered if “hospice” was written all over my face. I wondered if the lost, numb, haunted, resigned, confused glaze over my eyes was recognizable to the hospital staff.

I have a lot of work to do, emotionally. We met with a grief counselor today and I liked her a lot. I wonder if this experience might be the push I need to finally be ready to seek my own personal therapy to fight my inner demons and try and shake off some of the ghosts of my past that still haunt me. My mother has always held such a power of me in the sense that I made a silent, somewhat subconscious vow to myself that she would never see me overly emotional. No tears. No joy. No love. No fear. She had betrayed and violated my sense of trust so completely, and so many times over the years that she no longer held the right to see me at my weakest; my most vulnerable. I suppose in a way I was always afraid that if she did catch me with my guard down; she would seize the opportunity and sink her claws into me, injecting her poison deep into my veins.

My hope is that her passing will weaken those walls enough that with some therapy, I can finally send them tumbling and be free of the poisonous power she held over me.

I have a long road ahead. First, I have to get through today. Then tomorrow… And so on.