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Posts Tagged ‘#dying’

On Sat. Nov. 5th, we got up at 7 am to go to the local library’s book sale. I was so excited since I’d been looking forward to it since the last one six months ago. I got Mom up and she walked to the bathroom with help from me. She was 95 1/2 years old. She never wanted to use a cane or walker she just held my hands as I walked backwards. I got her on the toilet and she had a nice bowel movement. Then when I tried to get her to stand, she couldn’t. I tried over and over but she wasn’t able to push herself up with her left hand. It just was limp. I finally called Greg who had gone downstairs and eaten breakfast already. He’d made himself eggs and toast. The 2 of us were able to lift her up but she still couldn’t stand. Then Greg was going to try to take her downstairs but she wouldn’t be able to give him any assistance. I told him to bring her back to sit on the toilet and then call 911. He did and put the dogs in the sunroom. When he came back, I got her clothes and we quickly dressed her. Then I went to put some shoes on myself and they were in the sunroom and I did’t want to open the door in case the dogs ran out. So I put a pair of sandals on over my socks and changed my shirt. By this time, the emergency responders had showed up. They not only sent an ambulance, they sent a fire truck and a cop car. There were between 6-8 men eventually in our house tearing it apart. The first guy in would not come upstairs and check on Mom. He said he was going to wait inside the glass door of our entryway so the others would know where to come in!!! I had told him and the next 2 guys that came in, that if they needed anything moved, to let me know and I’d take care of it. They didn’t, instead they just started throwing things. We keep a bunch of globes on the stairs and I didn’t know if they needed to be moved since we can walk up and down them no problem, even carrying a laundry basket or ladder. They just grabbed them and threw them everywhere. Dealing with the paramedics was by far the worst part of the whole ordeal we went through! They had no care or urgency for us, Mom or any of our belongings. If they had thrown things to get to her quicker it would be one thing but it was just that they didn’t give a shit. They didn’t move too fast and roughed her up badly moving her into a chair to move her out of the house. She was black and blue up and down her arms from them handling her. At no point did they take her vitals until they got to the hospital. I kept asking if they wanted the names of the meds she’s on but they didn’t. I put the pill bottles (3) in my purse since I knew my brain would seize up from stress. When Greg phoned 911, he told them that she’d had a stroke. To this day, we still think that’s what it was. The paramedics asked if I wanted to ride in the ambulance and I said yes. I practically ran to the ambulance in front of the house and they all just walked slowly like they were browsing at the mall. When I was at the back of the ambulance, they said I had to ride in the front next to the driver. That I couldn’t ride in back because it gets too crowded with too many people. So I sat in front and Greg ran up with my purse which I’d forgotten. He told me he’d follow and see me at the hospital. It took forever for the guy driving the ambulance to get into the driver’s seat and he didn’t talk at all. I tried talking to him—asking him how long after a stroke could someone be given the anti-stroke drug and he said it was a 3 hour window. We had called 911 about 7:45 am. The ride to the hospital was unfamiliar to me. I’ve been to Resurrection many times and know the shortest and most direct route. The ambulance went a longer way that seemed out of the way. He also drove slower than an average vehicle, not fast like an ambulance should. He would slow down even at green lights. He seemed more worried about not wrecking the vehicle. It didn’t seem like he was in any hurry to get to the hospital. I’ve seen them drive faster on their way to the grocery store. 
They got her into a curtained ER room and left. Then I dealt with young residents and interns that were unlucky enough to have low seniority and have to work on Saturdays. Mom is profoundly deaf and even with hearing aids, she doesn’t always hear. She usually doesn’t respond and often didn’t speak. They couldn’t ask her if she was in pain or how she was feeling. She was able to lift both her legs off the bed but her left arm was still limp. She also had a glazed look in her eyes (which to me seemed like terror) and her left eye wouldn’t open. They got all her information from me regarding insurance and meds. Then they took her for a CAT scan of her head and took a ton of blood tests. From the get go her vitals were awesome. Her blood pressure was good as was her pulse. Her pulse oxygen was between 87-92 which seemed to come from a loose fitting clamp on her finger. After all day, they finally put her on oxygen through her nose and the pulse oxygen went up to 98. They had put IVs in both hands and arms. I told them how worried I was that it was a stroke and that I wanted her treated before the window for reversal was up. They came back after a few hours and said that that all the tests pointed to it NOT being a stroke! That doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a stroke though… They also said she wasn’t a candidate for TPA. I don’t know if it was her age or her other symptoms like congestive heart failure that she’s had for 15+ years. They said she had a bad urinary tract infection and were going to treat her with Cipro every 12 hours by IV. Finally they decided to keep her in the hospital since she couldn’t swallow aspirin they wanted to give her. They ended up giving the aspirin rectally in a suppository. About 2:30 pm they were going to see about getting a hospital room for her. That took over an hour. Meanwhile, Greg & I are sitting in the curtained room waiting. Because of the close quarters, you can’t help hearing what is said in the next room and other areas of the ER. Next door was a younger guy who came in because he’d been throwing up blood for 3 weeks! Eeek. He was nauseous, had stomach pain, pain when urinating or a bowel movement. He was there for hours as well and after a ton of tests, they couldn’t figure out what was wrong with him. He was throwing up and making gagging noises which was so gross to hear. They gave him anti-nausea meds and painkillers and he finally said he was leaving to go to work!!


About 3:30 pm, they said they had a room for Mom but needed to wait until Transport sent someone down to get her. That took about 45 minutes. She got moved to Room 3127 and we went along and got her settled in. I hadn’t eaten anything since the night before and Greg & I were both exhausted so we decided to go home to eat and then come back that evening. We came back around 8 pm and stayed a few hours. Mom’s eyes were open but she wasn’t seeing. Her eyes weren’t focused and she didn’t seem “there”. She had a tremor in her right hand. We’d always put her on the computer to play video games, specifically slot machines. We set it up so she could just use the space bar to spin the slot machine. I had brought her a small stuffed skunk that I thought might cheer her up but she never regained consciousness. We don’t know if she was sleeping with her eyes open, in a coma or unconscious. But that is how she was from Sat night until Monday night (Nov. 7th) when she passed. She still had a strong grip in her right hand and would hold and squeeze your hand. She’d also pick up the skunk and pet it. 


It was so sad and hard to see her in that condition. She had been very gradually declining for years but it was so slow, that seeing the difference between Friday night and Sat. afternoon was drastic. She had been able to walk up & down the stairs alone using the handrail. Thurs. she had gotten in & out of the bathtub by herself. We were torn between wanting to be with her and feeling as if she didn’t know if we were there anyway.


Sunday Nov. 6th we spent several hours at the hospital in the morning and early afternoon. Mom wasn’t doing well. She was unresponsive and she just slept, sometimes with her eyes open. When we were in the ER, they had brought up signing a DNR (do not resuscitate) but it seemed too soon. It seemed like they were giving up on her. Everything we originally decided, after much talking, we changed our mind about. They had a speech therapist come in to see if she could swallow. She failed so they were talking about putting a feeding tube in her stomach. There’s no way I could let them do that. Hospice was brought up but we really didn’t know what it was. They said we could take her home which sounded like the right thing to do. Who wouldn’t want to die at home if given a choice?! They also said there was a hospice floor in the hospital (the brand new hospice wing opened 2 days after she passed). The neurologist came in and agreed that hospice was the right move. I asked him how long people last without food and water. He said she’d probably last a week at most. I asked several others and were given answers of 9-10 days and one 3 days. We were actually thinking if Mom was in hospice, Greg could go to work a couple of days that week. The doctor who was assigned to her came in for a minute (literally) and said hospice was the way to go and it is covered by Medicare. We kept going back and forth trying to figure out if we could handle her care at home. Care consisted of turning her to different positions to sleep and swabbing her mouth with a wet sponge. We didn’t know this until we saw it later but they said the hospice workers wouldn’t do much but stop by several times a day to check her vitals. Finally what decided it for us was how traumatic the ambulance ride back home would be. We were willing to move all our living room furniture to make room for a hospital bed. I would’ve slept downstairs by her. But why put her through all that when she could stay in the same bed and just be wheeled to a different floor? So I signed the DNR and several other documents in a haze. We went home to eat a late lunch and walk the dogs. We got a phone call that she’d been moved to Room 472.


We came back that evening to check on her. She seemed to be having a more restful sleep. They had taken her off of IV fluids and given her something to calm her and the next day gave her morphine. We had been trying to figure out our next move. Greg decided to just take the week off. We didn’t know how long Mom would last so didn’t know when to contact a place about her being cremated. We decided to do it Monday morning. Greg called around to a few in the area and found out for a simple cremation there’s a $2400 difference in price. He was calling early in the morning and most didn’t answer their phones and had to call him back. We decided to go with one that answered the phone personally. It was the Rago Brothers Funeral Home. We told them we’d call when Mom passes, thinking it could be several days yet. Little did we know that we’d be calling that night!! 


Monday we made 2 trips to the hospital. We spent 5 hours before lunch and then went back at 4 pm until 7 pm. When we came back in the afternoon, Mom was flushed. She was red in the face and breathing a bit harder. Her whole body was hot. I took the blanket off and just kept the sheet on. I didn’t know if this meant she was going to pass soon or not. They had given us a booklet which we both read on how you can tell if they’re going to pass and most of it was inapplicable. It’s for those who have to be in hospice for months. The one thing that rang true was they get hot and then they get clammy. Her hand got very clammy. We still didn’t know and told the nurse to call us if she took a turn for the worse and we’d come back. Before we left, I leaned over and said right in her good ear that we loved her and that she could go to heaven now. We went home and watched Dancing With The Stars which Mom always loved. We were about a half hour away from going to bed when the phone rang at 10:40 pm. The nurse (Dominic) told Greg that she’d passed. We were both in shock. We’d just been there! We were going back in the morning…and now we didn’t have to. So we got dressed and headed back over to the hospital. When we got to her room, she was laying there like a skeleton. Not breathing but still warm! Her mouth was open but eyes shut. Greg & I both kissed her on the forehead. We stayed with her a few minutes and then called the funeral home and told them. They said they would call us the following day around 10 am and we could come in and make arrangements. We went up to the nurses station and signed some paperwork, thanked them for all they did and gave them a flower that a volunteer had put in Mom’s room. We’d been crying pretty much for 3 days straight. We went home and cried some more.


The next day Greg called my cousin Jayner who lives in Michigan to tell her the news. She was going to pass the news on to her sister and our other male cousin that lives in Minnesota. We went to the funeral home and took care of important matters. We had to order original certified death certificates. They are $20 for the first and $10 for each additional. We had no idea how many to order so got 6. I hope it’s enough. Mom didn’t own anything but a bit of stock which I still need to get transferred to my name. 


I don’t know where the rest of the week went. For the next 3 days we cried on and off. After that, we’re pretty much cried out. The Thursday after she died we got the call to pick up her ashes but we were worn out so waited until Friday. Thursday we had gotten out ALL the old photo albums and we looked through them all. It made me feel so much better!! I honestly couldn’t remember how she used to look before she was in her 90’s! I saw that she’d had a great life and had lived it to the fullest. There was no reason to be sad when she really was never sad. I thought Sunday Nov. 13th would be hard because it was the first time I’d eaten lunch (or any meal) alone in over 2 decades! Greg went back to work and I was alone (with the dogs) all day. I thought I would be a basket case but I was fine. I kept myself busy with laundry. I do miss her every day but I’m glad she’s in a better place. She wouldn’t want us moping around. She’d want us to live for her and do things she liked. That’s why we’re leaving this week for our annual Thanksgiving trip to Tunica, MS. This is our 19th year we’ve been there for Thanksgiving and the first without her. We’re going to take her ashes along with us and sprinkle them at the places she loved and where we vacationed at. She loved to travel and was always up for an adventure. She never complained and was such a trooper. I had her for 54 years but it still wasn’t enough. When you love someone so deeply and your soul is tied to them so completely, anything short of eternity together feels like a rip off.

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Death keeps creeping into my mind and into the corners of my life. Friday night before bedtime, I got the news of another death. My friend Lisa in Mississippi lost her son on Thursday when a tornado struck his workplace. He was 28 years old and the eldest of her 2 boys. This is such a freak accident. It was the only reported death in the whole state from the storms that day. I googled to find out more info. His funeral was this afternoon. I’m trying not to be obsessed with death but death seems to be brushing up against me. Edging ever closer, the older I get. I didn’t sleep well Friday night because I just couldn’t get Lisa and her family out of my mind.

 
Yesterday (Sat.) I made a sympathy card on the computer first thing and was addressing it. Hubby walks up to me and says, “You’re such a nice person.” He always says it like it surprises him or shocks him.  I asked him why and he said “because you’re always thinking of others.” I really wanted to call Lisa but figured she had a whole group of people (she lives in a small town) surrounding her now and she’d appreciate the call more later after some time has passed. I was lamenting to hubby about “why do all these deaths affect me so much?”. His answer? “Because you’re such a sensitive person.” I’ve always been this way. I agonize over things that happen to me AND everybody else. I always put myself in everyone else’s shoes and try to imagine what they’re going through. In a lot of cases, I can’t know but I can TRY. I’ve made a career out of empathy. A lot of times I wish I wasn’t so sensitive. It makes life a lot tougher.
 
As I’ve said before, I avoid talking about death, if I can. I don’t think about what kind of shape I’ll be in when my mom dies. Or what would become of me if hubby died. Or if he died while we were on vacation, how I’d manage. While we were out walking the dogs yesterday morning, hubby brought it up, saying we should talk about it. He said if anything happened to me, he’d make sure to take care of my mom. I knew that but it was still reassuring to hear. Then I mentioned how if I died, his family would be by the day they heard to help him get rid of my stuff. He said it would make him mad if that happened. Then I went on a tirade about if I died, I’d hope that he wouldn’t get a lot of emails and cards from people telling him what a good person I was and how much people loved me. That would make me so angry but I’d be dead so I guess it wouldn’t matter. Then I said, “I think anyone would appreciate being told that while they’re alive. It does no good to say it after the person has passed away.” No sooner were the words out of my mouth and then I had a heart attack. No joke. As suddenly as anything could happen, it happened. I didn’t feel well. I had a severe pain in the center of my chest. I just felt like I had to sit down. It was 37 degrees out and snowing and I wasn’t about to sit on the sidewalk. So we kept walking. I didn’t say anything. That’s how my hubby knew something was wrong. I just shut up. I am a chatterbox so it brings a red flag when I’m quiet. I tried walking slow, stopping and leaning against a tree, etc. Nothing helped. I kept walking because I didn’t want to believe it wouldn’t pass, whatever it was. I like to believe I’m strong and can power through anything. I didn’t think it was a heart attack. I thought you had pain on your left side where your heart is or up and down your left arm. I wasn’t exactly short of breath. I’ve only had heartburn once in my life and this felt like that only much worse. I’ve had one panic attack in my life which kind of felt like that. So I told hubby I didn’t feel good and what the pain was like. He walked next to me and I could just tell he was ready to call 911 if I passed out. He knew better than to hover over me. So we walked super slow and stopped at times. I felt like I was getting worse so finally told him I wanted to cut the walk short and go home. I could barely make it home. As cold as it was, I started to sweat and even got lightheaded. I took a couple baby aspirin and went to sit down. It finally passed after a few minutes but I felt weak. I tried to talk myself into that it was a panic attack since I’d been upset after talking about death. I googled symptoms and when I saw that the pain could be in the center of your chest, I steeled myself. I don’t need any lectures on going to the ER. I probably should have gone and I will if I have anything similar happen again. I’m not saying this to get attention. I don’t like talking about myself but I don’t mind writing about myself. It makes me wonder how many other women are in denial or unsure of what they’re feeling. Logic says I should go get checked out but I’m ok now. I don’t know for sure I had a heart attack. I don’t know if I want to know if I did.
 
It’s been over 3 years since I’ve gone to the doctor. I see the dentist every 6 months. After my last health ordeal years ago, I thought I’d be better about going to the doctor. The fatter I get, the less I want to go. April 8th I finally called to make a doctor’s appt. for a pap smear and to find out what the weird pain in my legs is. The soonest I could get in was May 15th. For someone who wants to get death off their mind, this isn’t helping. I had forgotten that Rosie O’Donnell had a heart attack after turning 50. A woman I know on Twitter (a nurse) had a heart attack a few years ago, at age 50. I never really thought of 50 as the age your body decides to break down. I have a double dose of heart disease running through my family tree from both parents. My mom has congestive heart failure and my dad had a couple heart attacks and was one of the first in the country to get new heart valves and have a heart bypass. He had been operated on at the Mayo Clinic in the 1970’s. But he had smoked. I don’t smoke. I know from now on, I’ll have to watch myself. Instead of leaving everything to chance.
 
I don’t know what purpose it serves for me to write this except maybe to document that it happened. My mom always said “I’m going to live until I die anyway.” Which never made sense to me until now.

 
Death doesn’t take a vacation. Or a holiday. Or a long weekend. Every day, with so many people dying, we have to count ourselves lucky if we’re not one of them. We also have to count ourselves blessed each day that passes where our loved ones are not taken by death through all the possible ways that lives can end. We shouldn’t dwell on death, nor should we ignore it. We need to give it respect and a wide berth.

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I’ve never dealt well with death. The same could be said of a lot of people. The only people who handle death well are the dead. I try to avoid thinking about it entirely but due to the nature of life, it does show up sooner or later. On Monday night, we received a phone call that my mom’s best friend had passed away at age 93. I called her son back on Tuesday afternoon and missed him since he was at the funeral home making arrangements. I did speak to her grandson or tried to with a huge lump in my throat. All I could think of was all the letters she’d written my mom that I’d read. She mentioned her grandsons frequently and how fond she was of them. How good they were to her and how they even lived with her for a time. I start to get emotional without a real reason. Just knowing how much they would miss her made me start to fall apart. I got off the phone as fast as I could before he had to wonder what kind of basket case I was. My mother had been friends with Bea for almost 70 years. They had met in their 20’s and the friendship had survived moves to many states, marriages, children and lasted into their 90’s. They started out as coworkers and then roommates. They had many shared experiences that got them laughing whenever they spoke on the phone or in person. They always sent each other birthday and Christmas cards, no matter what. They always wrote letters telling what was going on in their lives. They shared recipes, lots of laughter and even comics that Bea used to cut out of the paper and send with her letters. My mom is not an emotional person. She used to be a bit more but as she’s aged she’s lost the ability to wallow in sorrow. Later that day, Bea’s son Gary called back and we talked for 37 minutes before I had to get off or I’d start crying. I can’t get over what an impact one person had on both our lives. I had long wondered who would go first. If I’d be calling Bea to tell her that my mom had passed away. The reason I handled the phone calls for my mom is that even with 2 hearing aids, her hearing is so bad she can’t hear well enough to carry on a phone conversation.

 
The only time I saw my dad cry was at his mother’s funeral. I was 9 and my grandma was 93. She had lived her last few years in a nursing home but before that had lived with us. My dad was very close to his mother since he was an only child. Seeing him just sobbing during the hymn Rock of Ages shook me to my core. It was my first funeral and my first time being around any display of grief. My mother’s mother had died when I was 5 but I didn’t go to the funeral. Maybe if I’d had more experience with death it wouldn’t be so uncomfortable for me.
 
I have since been exposed to several more occasions of death but it hasn’t gotten any easier. My dad died when I was 27 and I remember wondering if it hurts worse to lose a parent when you’re young or old. When you’re young (like 27 versus 50), you’re mourning the future you lost, what you could’ve had with them. When you’re older and lose a parent, you’ve had longer to bond with them and be close with them. Therefore, you’d miss them more. I don’t know which theory is true because the only thing I’ve figured out is it hurts either way. It hurts more the closer you are with the person. If you’re in daily contact with someone, there’s a huge void left when they’re gone.
 
I’ve noticed there are basically 2 ways people handle death. Yes, I do make over-simplifications. There are the people who think no one has ever grieved like they have. Due to my husband coming from a large Catholic family, there are way too many weddings and funerals to attend. My husband was taught to go and show his respects. We’ve been together for almost 28 years so as time marches on, more of the aunts and uncles have passed away. Some I’ve barely known, others I’ve known somewhat or quite well. About 10 years ago was the first one that really hit me. It was his Aunt Rosie. She was my hubby’s double aunt. She was his mother’s sister and married to his dad’s brother. That saying that you never forget how someone makes you feel is so true. I have always felt self conscious/ ill at ease around crowds at family gatherings. Not knowing who to talk to or what to say. Rosie always made a point of coming up to me and talking to me. She would ask about my mom and we’d talk about how she liked to gamble too. We’d also talk about travel and trips. It didn’t matter what we talked about, I felt like she liked me and I genuinely liked her. She made me forget all the other people around us and feel like it wasn’t a waste that I showed up at the family function. I truly grieved for her and shed tears at her funeral service.
 
There have been other funerals I’ve attended that had a mass hysteria quality to them. Even if I wasn’t one bit sad, seeing everyone crying to the point of dry heaving starts to make me whimper and feel like sticking a knife in my gut. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it myself. At a different funeral, 2 people threw themselves on the casket. They don’t even do that in the movies!! This service was so upsetting to me on so many levels. I’m not telling people how to grieve but I have a hard time understanding how people can turn on and off their emotions like that. One minute they are hysterical, the next they are eating lunch and laughing in the church basement. I guess this is normal. I’ve often said I don’t believe in funerals. Of course, I believe they exist, just that they are unnecessary. I believe in telling people how you feel about them while they are alive. I believe in comforting people who have lost loved ones but the big pomp and circumstance is not for me. I wouldn’t even want a service, nor a cemetery plot. Giving the dead license to take up real estate forever is just crazy.
 
I wished there was a bravery pill that would give you strength when you need it. When grief overtakes you and you want to appear strong, you’d take it. Many don’t need this since they are able to give a eulogy for someone they loved. I know I could write one but there’s no way I could get through reading it. I would break down so many times until I just folded up completely. I’ve never felt capable of crying in front of other people. It is way too vulnerable of a thing for me. I try to hold it in and wipe away tears but I don’t let it all out in front of others. It is a howling pain that I couldn’t inflict on another person’s ears.
 
Some people seem so matter of fact when someone passes away. They understand it’s a phase of life and have made peace with it almost instantly when it happens. This is probably the “right” way to be. At one of the family funerals a few years ago, I wasn’t exactly sad except for seeing so many others in pain. Then I looked up ahead of us a couple rows and saw my husband’s Aunt Anne. She is my favorite relative I gained by marriage. She is everything good in the world. Calling her a Saint is really not doing her justice. She is so much more than that. She’s got a great sense of humor, in addition to being a caregiver, mother, grandmother, gardener, cook, etc. She also has more faith than anyone I’ve ever met. She practices what she believes and ministers to prisoners and anyone in need. She is generous and always ready with a hug. She loves everybody and reminds me of Emma Snyder from As The World Turns. She makes everyone feel welcome and loved. All I had to do was think about how glad I was that it wasn’t her funeral we were at and I started crying. It was ridiculous. I talked to hubby later and he said he had been thinking the same thing. When she goes, even though we know she’ll be in Heaven for sure, we will both be a mess.
 
Maybe the only people ever truly comfortable with death are morticians and medical examiners. They have to see it and be around it enough that they become almost immune to it. Also seeing so many deceased strangers is quite different from a deceased loved one.
 
3 years ago my best friend passed away. It was unexpected but aside from missing her, I had no regrets. I had spoken to her a few days before when she was in the hospital and I’d told her I loved her. I have always done that with people. I sign my letters “Love” if that’s how I feel. I’m sure it puts some people off. They don’t put love unless it’s to their mate. I think there are many types of love and one is friendship. Love and friendship don’t always last but when it does, we have to consider ourselves blessed.
 
In closing, I want to include a few of my favorite quotes about death:
Death is a distant rumor to the young.–Andrew A. Rooney
Death does not wait to see if things are done or not done.–Kularnava
Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.–Norman Cousins
 
Have you had a lot of experience with death? Do you feel you handled it well under the circumstances? I’m curious to hear others’ thoughts on this topic.
 

 

 

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