There is a reason why I am working so hard to develop a course correction for my life. It is because I am surrounded by multiple slow, imminent deaths. Yes, yes, I know that we are all on the path to death the moment we are conceived. It’s when you are constantly reminded of it that it starts to take a toll on you. Right now I have my mother-in-law in late-stage Alzheimer’s; my mother has dementia along with rectal cancer; and my father is a stroke survivor with Parkinson’s. The Grim Reaper loves to send me postcards to remind me that he is always right around the corner. He tends to send them about 2:00 a.m. in my dreams.
Yesterday, I went for a visit to my mother-in-law. For the first hour, she slept while I talked to her. I have to say that she kept freaking me out. She would stop breathing for what felt like forever (probably only about 5 seconds but a really long 5 seconds) then she would take this really deep breath and go into some rather heavy and strained breathing. I was about to give up on her waking up when the aide came in with her laundry. She woke up big time.
She turned to me, said her nickname for me, and asked when I got there. She hasn’t truly known who I was for a while now. Then she started crying and saying it had been forever since she saw me. I just hugged on her and finally got her to laugh so that she would stop crying. I can’t handle the crying. We got to catch up and really enjoy our visit. Then the hospice aide showed up to give her a bath so I had to go.
I was telling her good-bye and joking about how next time she better be awake since I don’t do well handling the whole conversation. She looked at me like she hadn’t seen me in a couple of years and said that I was still the same then started tearing up again. That almost killed me. Next she asked that I tell her son (my husband) that she loved him. That really almost killed me. I was glad that I had a way out since I didn’t know if I could hold it together.
While she was sleeping, they let me know that her ability to swallow is getting worse and they may get a couple of spoonfuls of Ensure down her everyday. I can’t do anything about it though. I made Sally a promise that I wouldn’t let them do any extraordinary measures so that she could leave as naturally as possible. You want to talk about a really tough promise to keep!
I woke up a little before midnight last night to something Sally had said to me this past summer. She hated the fact that we have basically put our lives on hold to take care of all the parents. She wanted me to put my life first. I’m finally trying to honor that request. I’ve come to realize that I can’t find a miracle for any of the parents. I can just be there, take them to the doctor, talk to them, and keep them comfortable. It’s not a bad thing to let them see me trying to move ahead while they are in the final phase of life. It’s actually an honor to them to see me trying to survive with so many reminders of death surrounding me.
It’s kind of like what they do at the care home taking care of my mother-in-law. They always keep her TV set to the Food Network. She’s basically starving to death. I thought it was kind of cruel to show her that food when she isn’t eating. Then I realized that they are doing it as a way to try to encourage her to eat. We sometimes think that our actions are disrespectful when they are the opposite. The best thing you can do while taking care of someone who is in the last phase of life is to show them that their efforts to raise you weren’t taken in vain. Show them that you have the strength to move forward as they are losing their grip.
I love music but my favorite is hard rock. I primarily listen to the station for the new hard rock songs. There is this song that started playing recently that just kills me. The group is Nothing More and the song is called “Fadein/Fadeout” about a father and son. The lyrics go, “I have watched you fade in, you will watch me fade out. When the grip leaves my hand, I know you won’t let me down.” How fitting that it started playing on the radio right about now.
As I left my mother-in-law yesterday, I knew in my heart that we were in the final days. I got in the truck and guess what was playing. It was right at the point where it talked about the grip leaving his hand. Yes, I was a mess driving home. Only real thing I truly learned yesterday is this. Alzheimer’s sucks!