Earlier, I mentioned my mom’s dementia and failing health. Just recently, the bout of pneumonia that she suffered was like a body blow to her already compromised immune system and since she has returned to the board-and-care home, whimsically named “Raquel’s Rose Garden” after the administrator’s daughter, she has remained in a state of semi-consciousness.
Her condition led me to enroll her in a hospice program so that she could receive all of her medical attention in the home along with all of the other services hospice supplies. Those of you that have had experience with hospice know how incredibly helpful it can be. I suddenly felt that I no longer had sole responsibility for every medical decision, but instead was a part of a team that was going to do everything that we could to keep my mother comfortable through her final days.
Now that we are in the system, I wonder why I waited so long. However, their glossy handbook told me why right off the bat. Early on, it reassured me that, “Often, hospice is not started soon enough because people consider it a “last resort.” Sometimes a physician, patient or family member might resist a hospice referral because they think it means they are surrendering and there is no hope. Hospice is not about giving up.” Dang. Wish I’d read that sooner.
This was exactly my dilemma as I considered if this was an appropriate move. I felt like I was calling it quits as far as my own responsibility and somehow doing her a disservice. I know better now. I met with the doctor on Saturday morning and, with all of the proper disclaimers and qualifications, she suggested that my mom probably has no more than a month to live.
My mom is 92. She was married for over 60 years with a wonderful man, had three pretty great kids, five grandchildren, and a career as an RN. She has had a good life.
When I would come home depressed from my nearly daily visits to see her at Raquel’s over the past 3 ½ years, my wife did not understand my reaction. She thought it was a matter of my having unrealistic expectations, that every day I went to visit thinking, “she’ll be better today.”
The opposite was true. Every visit meant watching a loved one in decline. There were no good days, at least not in my mind. Every day was a step in the direction that has led to where we are today. The utter inevitability was not only depressing to watch, it reminded me of my own mortality, of how I was essentially on that same path. Depressing I know, but continued exposure to all of this got me thinking this way.
I started the grieving process long ago, but my reactions now are complex and confusing even to me. In our time at Raquel’s I’ve been through the death of three residents. Each one delivers a shock to the house. Most of the caregivers have been with my mom the entire time and the administrator and his wife are both kind and attentive to her. There are only two other residents right now and the three of them have been together for years. Even the hospice nurse has attended other patients and is well known to every one.
I worry about all of them because I know they are already feeling bad about losing my mom. I know that my grieving will be quiet and private, but I’m happy to know there will be others to share the pain with. I am better at being a source of comfort than I am at accepting the comfort of others.
It’s just tough having watched someone, for over three years, journey towards death in exactly the way we all hope to avoid.