…nd stroke my hair when I can longer do anything but lie in my bed and make breathing my sole focus. He’s demanding me to make a mental list of the people who will cherish, not resent, doing these things for me and who will love me so much that they whisper in my ear that it’s okay to leave this world and end…
Dawn, this was such a beautiful article, but it leaves me so conflicted.
Three days ago was the first anniversary of my dad’s death and I wrote so many drafts about that experience but never published them because it was just too personal and painful.
My dad went downhill fast in the last month of his life. The stages of his care requirements changed so fast we were scrambling to keep up:
- At which point could we no longer care for him?
- At which point had he become so sick he needed to go to the hospital?
- How could we keep him safe at night without restraining him? (He was still trying to get up out of bed to go to the bathroom long after he was no longer able to walk so I stayed with him a few nights and hardly slept. I was a wreck by the end of the week have no idea how people can courageously care for a sick loved one for months and year.)
- At which point would we need to put him in a nursing care facility? (he didn’t live long enough to force me to make that decision)
- At which point did I have to make decisions for him when the doctor came to see him?
- At which point would I have to end the efforts to keep him alive, put him in hospice care and let him die at home?
My dad maintained his independence and dignity for 102 years, two months. In that last month, it hurt me to see that taken away from him. I tried to avoid washing him and taking care of his waste as much as I could because I thought it would be humiliating for him to exchange places with the baby I was so long ago.
One of the worst nights, in the gap between the shifts our day and night aids, I had to lift him, help him sit on a porta potty, and clean him. The moment I dreaded had come but I had to do it and I wondered whether it was an emotional ordeal for him or whether he was at a point in his life where he was glad somebody was there to help.
I didn’t cherish those moments and have no idea how I will feel if my sons are put in my position some day.
We all experience the ugliness and finality of death in different ways.
Some of us ride shotgun with our loved one on that lonesome train all the way to the end. Some of us turn away in grief and horror. Some of us feel terrible guilt over how much more we could have done. Some of us feel joy at doing all we did.
I’m glad you’ve been able to process your loss in such a positive way, because the only real meaning we find in death is how it forces us to view the life we have left ahead of us.