You don’t know what someone is dealing with…what they’re going through. Sometimes a person can be confident and also anxious, look healthy but be sick, look happy and be miserable, look good but feel ugly, act hopeful but feel hopeless, smile and be broken, or never smile at all and be happy… You don’t know. So unless you ask, don’t judge. Don’t assume. Sometimes a person you see every single day or think you know very well can be fighting battles you know nothing about.
It does NOT phase me to be with someone when they die. I mean, I don’t see it as a negative experience. I’m good at being fully present for another person’s death. I’m good at opening my heart. Letting the energy flow. I’m good at holding hands and holding space and saying the words that you say to dying people, helping them to let go. Lord knows I’ve done it enough times.
It does NOT freak me out or make me uncomfortable to be around dying people. I know it’s part of life. It doesn’t scare me. It doesn’t make me feel weird or distressed.
In fact, death is one of the most peaceful things I’ve ever been around, in the moment that it takes place. It’s the getting there that is hard and sometimes scary and painful. It’s the living part that is hard. And the grieving. The being “left.” Dying? Dying is easy.
Everything goes quiet – even amongst all the noise, whether it’s chaos or just the whines and whooshes of machines that surround it. Everything goes still for that one, solitary moment…the one when you hold your breath as you wait to see if they’re going to take another one…and then, when they don’t…the release of your own long held inhalation.
I have seen them leave, and I always wonder where they go. What’s really next…? Are they still there, in a different plane of existence? Did they see a light? Did they know they were dying? Did they see something beautiful, or did they see nothing at all?
I mean, there are gross things about it – certain smells and things they do sometimes at the moment after dying, as the body releases them…it’s not “pretty” all the time but it’s not…it’s not that terrible to me, that moment. In that moment, they have something I don’t have: real peace, and the knowledge of what comes next. It’s relief. It’s that final endeavor of living.
I find death to be one of the most precious moments you can share with another human being. And so very often, it feels like a gift…
So why these nightmares. Why? My therapist says I’ve been through a multiple year long trauma that ended with holding another person’s hand as they died. I don’t feel like I’ve been through a trauma. I feel like I shouldn’t be having nightmares. Especially not ones in which my kid is dying.
Maybe I AM losing my mind. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m the only one left of that little family unit that was my family unit all my life. No grandparents. No parents. No brothers or sisters…or are there, somewhere? Maybe that’s it… The fact that I was adopted never phased me, until now. I never really had questions. I never really wondered. I just knew that I was blessed to have a home and to be loved. Not that I’m not now… I just…as we ease up on the one month mark since my mom’s death, something weird is happening inside of me.
The last few years culminated into feeling like a dream for the last several months – I have literally survived, I realize now, by living in a whole non-reality, on autopilot, and there are very few everyday experiences and mundane daily tasks that I do now without being in an almost confused state. Like, “what is this?” or, “how did I ever do that…I don’t remember…”
I am beginning to realize that I actually exist – and can exist – as a being separate from continuous worry and fear about/for my mother, and I have completely forgotten how to be that person. I still wake up some mornings, if I’m not already at my moms, with this programmed state of, “I have to go check on my mother,” being the first literal and conscious thought in my head. Even if I stay there, which I haven’t been able to peacefully do yet, I find myself in the mindset that I have to get up every few hours to check and feel guilty when I wake up and think I forgot to set alarms to wake up.
Everyone says, “it’s got to be such a relief, though, since she died…” It is, in some ways. But in others, it is the same, just different, level of stress to readjust to “normal,” which is difficult now anyway because WHAT IS NORMAL in a world of COVID? I focus myself on cleaning and doing what needs to be done before anything else (music, photography, etc.) when the things I used to do I was only able to do mindlessly, really – just as a distraction from insanity.
I don’t know if this will make sense to anyone who reads. It has to sound like the ravings of a lunatic mind – but as I’m remembering my intelligent, creative, indulgent, passionate, and subconscious mind I find myself feeling everything from confusion to guilt to elating freedom to even complete blankness and emptiness.
It’s not the grief. Well, it’s partially that but only about 3/4. I don’t know, in this moment, WHAT the word or feeling or experience is. I remember going to through it to some extent after Dorie died and I had been such an integral part of taking care of her, but it wasn’t the same as this, nor was the care.
24/7 worry and anxiety about someone for years, and then 24/7 for months – even to the point of every single daily task they needed to do and then to the point of helping them through every moment of their death…it’s a completely different experience to readjust to existing without that task attached to your back when it was there for so long.
So yeah, you’d think it’d be lighter, more peaceful existence…but it’s actually more like a feeling of chaos. I hope like hell it doesn’t last long. I have too much to do – and, too much I want to do. I assume it will last through and a bit beyond probate because that limits me on the speed at which I can chose to move forward and move on… If it were up to me, I’d snap my fingers and life and the “me” I was “pre-Alzheimer’s parent” would click right back into place.
We don’t get into any state of being in the blink of an eye and we become the next version of ourselves even less quickly, I suppose. That’s been my past experience. So trudge along and get it done, I guess… ((Yawn.))
TW: the dying experience. Do not read further if you can’t deal with that kind of reality, or if you’ve had a recent loss that this will gnaw at… • • • • • • • Seriously, I’m going to share this reality so don’t keep reading if you’re not comfortable with this type of thing. This is my coping mechanism. To write. To share with those who can handle and understand it. To feel like my support system is with me… • • • • • • • This morning around 3:30am my mom’s oxygen started dropping. First it was 92. Then it was 90. Then it was 88. Then it was 85. She kept yanking the oxygen away. I stuck it in her mouth until the higher dose of morphine kicked in and she relaxed. Then, I put it back in her nose.
I called the after hours line. I was told I was doing everything I needed to be. I mean, it’s kind of common sense at this point, after the others, for me – but that doesn’t mean adrenaline and norepinephrine don’t fly and dopamine and seratonin don’t plummet…and you need that reassurance because you second guess. You feel responsible for more than comfort. You feel responsible for the pain, too. You can’t help it.
I cranked the oxygen up to 3. I started giving half doses of morphine every 30 minutes. Her chest would rise when she gasped, then cave in. Then the fluid rattle started again with her shallow breaths.
She would draw up in a fetal position, moaning and gasping, still with oxygen in her nose but oxygen levels still rising and falling at will because of the mouth breathing and the breath holding and the inability to get enough oxygen with the fluid.
She has not eaten in 12 days. She has not drank in 3 days. She is in the final phase of the dying process. I knew that. I know that. But nothing prepares you for that. I am grateful that she is home, and that I moved here. I am grateful that it is not the nursing home I fought for, or the hospital, where I likely couldn’t be with her…where she would be alone.
I have laid with her – some would say a gift, and I agree…though in the moment it doesn’t feel like one. I suppose it will one day, just like with both my grandmothers, my Daddy, and Dorie, and pets… I held her hand. I cried silent tears, watching her face grimace and her eyes open with the moans only to reveal cloudy, lifeless eyes. I waited patiently for the nurse.
The nurse came at 8:30. Upon assessment, the things are happening. The limbs are cooling. The bp is dropping. The heart rate is rising. The temperature is rising as her core fights to hang on. All the things.
It could be today, it could be three days. It could be a week – probably not longer than that, because of the lack of food and fluid. I have chosen to make her comfort the priority, with oxygen, and liquid morphine and Ativan. Myself and the doctor have chosen to forego the feeding tube, and IV fluids. There is no point in drawing it out, and a DNR is a DNR – all those things are at this point are life support. She doesn’t want that. It’s documented. I will not allow myself to feel guilty for those choices. She made them long ago – not me.
But it’s not easy. It’s not a happy choice. It’s not a good choice, in many’s eyes, I’m sure – but for her it is the right choice. And I will live with having to make it for the rest of my life. But I will also live for the rest of my life, however long or short that may be, knowing I’ve done all I could and what we felt was best for her. She has fought me tooth and nail, even changing the locks to keep me out of the house and away from her business, and now she groans when I’m not there. My, how things change. How they heal. How they induce growth. How they make you a different person.
I have been many different people the past year and a half, through the worst of all of this – some not always graceful, some quite angry, some extremely depressed…and now, regardless of the amount of time left, I feel nothing but…strength. Courage. And love.
I will see you all on the flip side… Love one another. Be kind. And live with an open heart. 🙏❤️
**Edit: my mother passed away 26 hours after I posted this.**
About five months ago, my mother was mentally bad and had wandered and broken her arm. Three and a half months ago I brought her home from the hospital. For years before this, from about six months after my dad died, I had struggled and fought for her and tried to care for her but she didn’t want to let me. I heard, “I am FINE,” at least 72,000,000 times. We had all made jokes about her condition – jokes about “NaNa” – jokes about how bad she was getting, “but there was nothing we could do…” Yet, I still fought…and I know those battles, and they’re why I’m here tonight.
I wish we hadn’t done that…made jokes, because it’s not funny. But I’m glad I never stopped fighting, even if we never had the mother/daughter relationship I always wished we’d had and even if I didn’t get her the help she needed WHEN she needed it because of a broken system that doesn’t correctly diagnose dementia/Alzheimer’s until it’s too late to really slow it down. It shouldn’t be this way – not with the research and the knowledge we have, medicine we have, and resources we have in this country.
I am at peace with the fact that I did my best – that I did everything I could. I don’t need to be externally validated for that…but it makes me feel and have almost a need to validate others who are or have been or will be in my shoes. All these years…they’ve culminated so quickly – in just a matter of weeks.
Three months ago, my mom looked like this (first photo) when I picked her up from the hospital. Tonight, she looks like this (second photo), grimacing and clenching in pain, almost choking on even oral liquid Ativan and Morphine, and her own phlegm and fluid, coughing like a weak squirrel, moaning and crying out in pain to the God that she believes in and still praying incessantly (again, quietly like a weak squirrel, but in pain all the same, barely able to verbalize it).
Dementia and Alzheimer’s are considered mental health issues and illnesses. Don’t tell me you can’t SEE IT because “it’s a mental disorder.” You CAN see it, right there on the MRI. Don’t tell me it’s not real or difficult or physically painful because it’s JUST a “mental disorder.” That’s what I was told for so many years – she’s just getting older. She’s just getting forgetful. She’s just having “mental problems” because of age. No – not just mental problems. A DISEASE – and a terminal one at that.
And you know what else? Especially if you’re a doctor? Don’t pretend to care when you don’t. When you belittle. When you get annoyed with children who are fighting for a better life and end for the parents. Don’t pretend to advocate because for the moment you feel sorry for someone. Don’t pretend like you’re Gucci just because you give to this or that charity or “buy your way” out of having to actually GIVE CARE.
You know what means even more than your charity checks and your “honest opinions” to families struggling with ANY illness or disease or end of life process when you follow up your explanations with the words, “we care?” When you SHOW THE FUCK UP for them.
I am showing up, mama, and even when you don’t want me here, here is where I will be. Too little too late to heal all the old wounds, but not too late to SEE that bygones can be bygones, and despite all of our bad times, all of the good you’ve done for me.
I’m so sorry for the hell, all the chaos I brought to you. I’m sorry for all the hurtful words and for all the times I fought you. I’m sorry I’m not the daughter you’d always hoped I’d be, playing the philharmonic or writing novels or preaching the gospel…but so many of the good things I am are things that you taught me.
“I didn’t carry you in my belly for nine months, but I carried you in my heart for a lifetime,” is what you’d often say to me…and that “to do your best and leave the rest,” was sometimes the only way to be. These words I’ve never forgotten and these words I’ll never forget.
I will soon, again, be an orphan, a fate you once saved me from…and with these fleeting last moments I am sorry. I know I was wrong. I’ll always be a daddy’s girl, and this always broke your heart…but the reality I thought you lived in was creating jealousy into art. But I always had a mom…
I understand your love tonight and what made you who you are…and that even though we aren’t the same we aren’t that far apart. I want to say, “it’s ok, let go,” though it truly breaks my heart…because I understand after all these years who you really are.
Rest now, precious woman, I know you did your best…and your best was really always enough, though I often put you to the test. I thought you didn’t love me, but you just loved me in your way…and, “rest now, precious woman,” is all I can seem to say…
One day, you will sit alone and look through old photos that seem like they were taken just yesterday but really, those moments are so far away. They’ve become memories, and a life that you once lived… Treasure good and happy, joy and thrill filled moments…indulge in those moments – whether experienced with those you care for or experienced alone – while you’re taking the photos and living the experience. Make them count. When they become just a memory, never look back at them with regret, because in those moments you were alive. You were living – not just existing. And being alive and not just existing is what life is really all about about. It is always “the good old days,” in one way or another… Never forget that.
“You’re gonna miss this
You’re gonna want this back
You’re gonna wish these days hadn’t gone by so fast
These are some good times
So take a good look around
You may not know it now
But you’re gonna miss this
You’re gonna’ miss this
You’re gonna’ miss this…”
To those of you who have commented on different posts, dm’d, texted, or even called and I haven’t been able to speak to you with everything going on, I’m sorry and I truly appreciate your kindness and your concern for my mom, for my son, for my family, and for me. It means so much – even if I can’t respond right away I see you and feel you there. Love y’all…so very much. It breaks my heart open to be able to receive, and thus continue to give, love…and have hope. ❤️
Therapy used to be the bane of my existence. Now that I have the best therapist on the planet (for me) via BetterHelp, it’s not so bad. The whole thing revolves around my time schedule – which can be pretty chaotic – and finally finding (or being gifted by the universe?) a therapist who GETS ME is priceless.
That said, it doesn’t change my thoughts or feelings. It helps me to express them in a safer environment than any other, but the reality is that my kind of depression doesn’t ever really go away. It’s up and down, it doesn’t flip but it rises and falls. And with my mom? It’s basically a pit of hell.
I think the thing that brings me down the most is watching this all play out and not being able to do a damned thing about it. Dementia is like that. No matter what you do, it’s gonna progress. Maybe slowly, maybe quickly. Maybe meds help. They don’t if you’re fighting with the person to even take them.
Mostly, the whole situation makes me both miss AND respect my dad so much more. Sometimes I am so angry that he is gone. Most of the time time I’m just sad. Sad at a level that isn’t just melancholy or blue, but at a level that is a thunderstorm – dark clouds and pouring rain, raging winds and thunder in my head. Sad at a level that I can barely breathe through these days.
But here I am. That counts for something, I suppose. Even still, I feel so useless to everyone around me. I feel useless to my mom because she won’t LET me be useful to her. I feel useless to everyone else because, well, depression. I just stay in my room, and read. I cry but I don’t know why as it doesn’t really let anything out. I wish that someday I would be able to find the words to describe this experience just in case I make it past it and have an opportunity to help someone else.
I hope you all have a pleasant weekend. I appreciate your correspondences and your kindness more than you know. You help me more than you know.