Another morning with no overnight telephone call from the hospice house in the back of Palolo Valley where my mother has been for the past week. It means she’s still alive. Barely.
On Friday, I was sure she would not survive the night. On Saturday, I was sure she would certainly not survive another night. Yesterday, as I prepared to leave, again for the last time, I just looked at my sister, Bonnie, and said with a shrug, “she may surprise us again.” And she has.
I want to think that my mother is aware, at some deep level, when I’m there at her bedside. I have short, one-sided conversations with her, trying to convey a sense of calm, letting her know that any past issues have been resolved and that she can go any time she chooses. It’s all okay now, is my message.
Perhaps, after nearly 99 years, there is just a lot of life to process before being ready to move on. Perhaps your life doesn’t just flash before your eyes, but is recounted at a slower pace as you prepare to walk that final path. Maybe you can choose to watch the life story to the end, or walk through the door at intermission. I don’t know. It’s all part of the mystery.
What is clear is that dying is hard work, and she’s been working at it for more than a week. I’m exhausted, emotionally and physically, just from watching. She must be as well.
In a recent comment, one person asked: ” Without sounding insensitive, am wondering if your experience has affected your views on end of life choices, including assisted suicide.”
Short answer, not really. It has strengthened my general support for Death with Dignity legislation. But it also raises the question of when and how a person’s wish to die with dignity would be fulfilled.
In my mother’s case, even after her personal physician and a hospice doctor said she was not expected to live more than six months, she assured us that she was not dying, despite the hospice diagnosis. And as long as she wasn’t dying, she would not have taken advantage of a system of physician-assisted death, although I think she would have wanted to have that option. Then her health quickly deteriorated in the past couple of weeks. She now realized she is dying and even said at least once she had already died, but she was now in a mental fog and would not have been capable of exercising her right to die with dignity. Would the responsibility of fulfilling her wish fall on us? If she had gotten an end-of-life prescription, would it have been our job to administer it?
This is only the second time I’ve gone through this death experience with someone very close. My dad died just a couple of years ago, and now my mom is near her end. But we’ve gone through it with a number of cats who we also loved. Cats have a way of telling you when they are ready. They stop eating, and stop caring for themselves. If allowed, they would probably find a place to hide in the hard and just wait to die. But we intervene at that point and seek the help of our veterinarian to make the passing quick and painless. It’s always very hard on us, the survivors. But much easier on the one who is dying.
Given my mother’s condition for the past ten days, quick and painless would have been a blessing, and could have avoided the lang, drawn-out, difficult work of dying.