Today when I visited, I sat by her bed again, quietly, with my hand resting lightly on her thigh, hoping she would awaken, but unwilling to wake her. She looked peaceful, almost secretly cheery. I looked around the snug, comfy bedroom for clues about her last week. Her glasses and a Snickers bar with a bite missing at the bedside table. On the wall was a page torn from a coloring book, a princess with tiara, colored flawlessly. Underneath, she had written, “I am so happy”. This was not there last week.
She was having trouble dying. The cancer that was torturing her body had left her swollen and lethargic. But then, she would have these incredible bursts of lucidity. Her blue eyes flashed and she told me about the sad, difficult times, and then–as if slaloming along the zigzag course of her life–about the happy times. Always she spoke of her son. Who hadn’t called.
She slept most of the time, she wasn’t eating, barely drinking, hardly peeing at all. Three weeks ago I wrote “actively dying” in my note, two weeks ago, “dying at her own pace” and last week, “seems to be having trouble dying.” She was staying with a friend, with hospice coming in to help care for her. She was comfortable physically, but there were times when in her sleep she called out for him. Sadly, she had no idea where he was, no clue, no contact information. He had stopped calling more than 5 years ago, right after college, when she was drinking heavily and he was tired of it all. He couldn’t possibly know that she was here with a friend, because she had moved from Kentucky only 6 months ago, when she already knew she was dying.
–So it was nothing short of a miracle that hospice had found him. That he had called over the weekend. That they had spoken of love and regret, of forgiveness and hope. Nothing short of a miracle. She can die happy now. She can die now.
>Waiting to complete unfinished business is a popular theme at EOL for many hospice staff. I have seen this complete a life story but i have also seen it tear families up in prolonged dying scenarios where they are clamoring for anything to help the person ‘find peace.’Early in my palliative care career I frequently asked families if they knew of any unfinished business, but now I shy away from it and try not to ascribe meaning to this time.Is there really proof of this phenomenon or is it something we tell ourselves to soothe the pain of prolonged dying processes? I think the verdict is still out.Thanks for sharing.
>Very interesting point, Christian. Apropos to my experience with my mother. Luckily, never did a hospice nurse ask my mother or me if my mother had “unfinished business”. She did, but her unfinished business was that, by the time she was dying, she believed she was immortal, which may or may not be true and, at any rate, was settled with her death, which she didn’t need to work at.Additionally, one hospice nurse did prod us to “make memories”…which we’d been doing, anyway, without prompting and without thinking about it for the previous 15 years. When, a few months before my mother died, he mentioned this and I told all three of my sisters, everyone laughed and one sister suggested that my mother’s response to that would have been, “Fine, go ahead and make a memory, but be quiet about it. I think I’ll take a nap.”At least, in our case, your decision to “shy away from it and try not to ascribe meaning to this time” is an appropriate course. In addition, I would suggest “follow the leader”, the leader being, of course, the one who is dying.