Thursday, June 3, 2010

Learning About Dying



We’re taking Mom home to her room at the care home today. She’s been such a great gal in the hospital, by all staff accounts from the long weekend before we knew she was there, and by my own experience Tuesday and Wednesday.
On Wednesday, she actually called me by my name for the first time in a couple of months, she recognized her sister, and she said to me, "That's a big smile." She spit her medication at the nurse this morning, and this afternoon she nicely told the pretty young doctor, "You have a nasty nose."
She meant to say, "You have a pretty face," because that's what she has always said to young women since getting dementia. But she gave us a good laugh.

I’ve learned an awful lot about dying this week. I’ve learned what the physical process is, how the body and the person living in it prepare it to stop functioning. I’ve learned how death often comes, the sounds it creates, how hearing is the last sense to go, why Mom’s legs and hands are so cool to the touch (even the bloodstream knows what to do and where to send the remaining energy).

Hunger and thirst go away, as they seem to be doing in Mom, an instinct that naturally reduces the strain on the body’s organs (like the gastro-intestinal tract), which are growing weaker. It appears also to be more comfortable and relieves the person of several potential conditions that would be distressing, like fluid buildup in the throat or lungs, having to poop or pee and not being able to, etc.

What stands out for me is how well organized it seems to be. The brain might be shrinking and disintegrating, but it remains a good director, as if God designed it that way.
When a person can no longer say more than six words in a row, the brain stops controlling the swallow reflex and the involuntary muscles involved. The person then can’t swallow. But that doesn’t matter, because hunger and thirst have disappeared. Starvation and dehydration develop next, and they seem to anesthetize nerves that conduct pain messages. Hospice knows how to relieve any discomfort that arises out of the process.

I’m thankful to God for my mother’s long life. She wasn’t perfect, but she was human, and the Almighty gave me lots of good years with her.
I’m so glad my mother left an Advance Directive and made her wishes known every which way but loose. That makes it so simple: just do what I know she would do. (She would jump out of bed and run naked through the streets if that would get her to heaven sooner.)

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

I needed to hear this. Thank you for sharing.

Karen said...

Your description of the physical preparation brings back so much for me, Chris. Until you've gone through this with someone, you can't know what this dying is all about. I pray your mother will go quickly.
xoxo

Alan Burnett said...

What a thoughtful and moving post. It's a difficult balance to achieve. It is indeed strange how life eventually prepares us for death.

Mrsupole said...

I am sending my prayers and thoughts for you, your mom, and your family. I am hoping she makes her way to heaven in her own time.

We have tried to get my mom to do an Advance Directive and have had no success, so I am thankful for you that your mom has done this.

I will continue to pray for you both.

God bless.

Syd said...

I find some comfort in knowing these things and how the body's physiology works. Yet, all that you describe points towards wanting to keep the cells and organs alive. And that is the sad part to me--that the cells keep doing what cells do until they simply can't anymore.

Dying has been on my mind lately. I'm glad that your mother has had a good long life. And that her pain will be relieved. Take care Chris.

Birdie said...

Chris, such a loving and touching post on such a difficult topic as death is. I pray for your mom can have the easiest crossing over on the other side. Sending love.

Elisabeth said...

It is a special time, this time for saying goodbye. You write about the process so thoughtfully. It takes some of the fear away.

It is nevertheless a sad time. My thoughts are with you.

The Bug said...

We visited my husband's mother in the nursing home this past weekend (you can see a picture of them on my post from Tuesday night) & we marveled at how well she was doing. She knew who we were & was reminiscing about the past. Last night we got a call from her sister & apparently she had had some mini strokes the night before & lost the function of her arms & eyes. We don't know the extent of the damage yet, but I wouldn't be surprised if her body didn't start the process you're describing here. I like your description - it's comforting somehow.

Marion said...

I continue to send prayers for your Mom's easiest crossing, and for peace and understanding for the rest of you and your family.

This is a good post, Chris, dying happens just like this. I'm so glad you understand the process. And that you have written about it so well here for others to understand.

Hang in there.

Dianne said...

This is so true. You are seeing the veil between the two worlds.

I am with you....

Georgina said...

I can't tell you how beautiful this was to read without making it about my own experience. Reading this has given me great comfort about all the things I wondered about when my Dad passed away in palliative care. It happened quickly and no one ever sat down to tell us what he was experiencing. It's give me comfort to know that even though he wasn't awake he could still hear us talking to him. No one told us that. Thank you so much. I hope you feel witnessed the way this post made me feel witnessed. Big gentle hugs and prayers to you and your family. - G

TechnoBabe said...

You have a little more time to be with you mother it seems. I like that people around her find humor in the things that she says and are not horrified. Bless her heart, she is going through another change in her life and my hope is that she is just able to enjoy the ride and not be frightened.

Poetikat said...

Hard for me to read this without tears welling up - taking me back to my dad's deathbed not so long ago.

Kat

Titanium said...

Thinking of you, of her... and sending strength, peace and prayers.

Nana Jo said...

This so beautiful, Chris. I think perhaps that the best we can ask for is to be welcomed into loving arms when we are born and to be allowed to die gracefully from the same. Bless you.

Brian Miller said...

chris you make my heart hurt and my face smile...i hope that how ever much time you have left is filled with happy moments

g-man said...

Chris...
Very touching.
Super attitude.
You are a wonderful daughter!

Tari said...

Oh my god! I just want to cry. When my grandmother passed away in September I did not know about dying at all. The staff in the nursing home tried to tell me a little bit here and there, but they didn't word it the way you did, so directly. I remember the cold hands, the end of eating, the lack of talking. I didn't know that she couldn't talk though, I thought she'd just run out of things to say. On Thursday she said her last words to me, on Sunday she had nothing left, and on Monday she died. Sorry this is so long... so sad.

May you find peace Chris, really. May you have strength, peace, and comfort in this time and onward.

Titus said...

Thank you Chris. That's an insight into something I haven't been through, and I value the knowledge and experience you've shared here.
Beautifully written, and as Elisabeth said, it was fearless writing that has taken fear away.

My thoughts and prayers.

Monkey Man said...

This hits so close to home, I almost had to stop reading. Having just lived this and watching my own mother go through each of these stages, memories flooded back. Take care, my friend.

Pat transplanted to MN said...

I came for the Sepia Sat post and read through your other stories and writings; I relate to your feelings and descriptions of the stages and the dementia. Sending prayers your way for strength.

We were blessed than Mom died suddenly of a heart attack in 2004 as her Alzheimer's was progressing and the years ahead would not have been good. Just returned from PA & my uncle Carl, 92 in assisted living with dementia that comes and goes..It seems to me we are the first generation to watch this terrible disease in our parents and relatives....to me it is worse than cancer or anything--it robs them of their mind.

Albert Einstein Quotes