Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Privilege of Standing At Death's Door With A Loved One

That most challenging of times standing at what I finally realized was my husband's death bed, assuring him daughter and I would be all right, we'd make it. 

It wasn't my first time to attend a family member who was dying. I'd taken steps to ease the transition for my husband's Aunt when she was passing several years ago. 

Much younger then, I'd agreed to be her Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. 

She felt her husband, with physical limitations himself, could not and would not be able to help her or make decisions when the time came. I suggested others in the family but she said she felt I would make the decisions she really wanted.

That was a very difficult life experience. Not when she originally made the decision, but when it actually became a reality, a responsibility. 

It prepared me in some small way for facing this time, this unwelcome time, walking alongside my husband as far as I could in his end of life journey.

You see, she was Catholic. He was not. She'd been married before and I believe he had also. She wanted Last Rites. She knew he would object. 

It was her death, her needs and her wants I believed were more important. I brought her a Priest. A family friend, older and compassionate, someone I felt would help her transition and ease her journey.

When she passed, her husband ignored me at the wake and funeral and didn't speak to me for six years. 

However, he remarried within six months of her death.

I know I did the right thing. He did what was best for him; I did what was best for her. That was the responsibility my husband's Aunt gave me. 

She was wise in this decision realizing choosing anyone directly in the family "line" would be even harder for them. She knew my husband; she knew me. She knew we both could weather the "storm" that would occur. She was right.

Facing and walking a journey alongside my husband was even more challenging but still a privilege to be with him before we parted in this life.

Before this moment in time, this unwanted, unwelcome life experience, being told the hospital had tried to turn down the respirator but he couldn't tolerate the reduction. 

Memories of being told his body systems were closing down, asked to make decisions, knowing his beliefs but still challenged by making that final, non returnable decision to remove the equipment.

No matter what I knew, believed or thought, I couldn't make the decision alone. I turned to my daughter, I turned to my sons, yes, even the oldest who has been a major life challenge, still our family.

I'd called the youngest and told him what daughter and I had been told and I didn't know how long we'd have their father with us but it didn't appear the time would be long.

Both sons decided to come immediately, to be with him, to be told first hand. One was across the country on business and the other on the opposite side of the country where they both lived.

I'd walked this road before. I wanted each of us to speak directly with the medical advisors, ensure there would be no surprises; no misunderstandings. 

Each would know, each would have time to question, to agree or object to any and all decisions.

Considering oldest son's actions had not been positive and he'd even stopped communicating with his father and me I still felt some unity, some semblance of what we had before so much changed and so many decisions made causing separation and loss of real communication.

Our oldest son also had a very negative telephone conversation with his father that caused great hurt and stress just hours before my husband went from sitting up in a chair to being placed into what would be the start of his final journey.

I watched my weak and struggling husband cope with the hurt and pain of that call.

Opening our hearts was difficult but he was, after all, family, our son, our first born, the beginning of our truly being a "family".

I didn't want to make any decisions; I wanted them made for me but life doesn't always travel the road the direction we want it to go.

Standing there, watching him leave us, not wanting him to go while realizing there was nothing left to do, nothing but release him from the struggles and the fighting with his body's final struggle. Sustaining "life" through equipment that breathed for him was not what he wanted even if we did.

But life doesn't end right away when equipment is removed even when Dr's assure you the body is "shutting down" and major life systems are failing, one after another.

We should have been better prepared for this event; this watch and wait while life leaves the body and the person you love moves away, never to return to your side in this life.

That's not the portrayal of dying and death we usually see -- it can be what seems like a much slower progression.

Birth and death. Happiness in the first, sadness in the last.

Death is a process that's many faceted just as it is for life and living.

We understand more today about how disease, accident and medical conditions can progress -- to some degree. We're still "hiding" -- to some degree-- the possibilities of end of life.

Is that why for so long I felt guilty? Wondering if and what I did and said was right, for the best -- all those second guessing and "what if's" many survivors go through?

Is it because this journey was not expected; was believed to have been "advanced" by decisions made by those who should have known better, done more and taken more time to instruct, guide and provide -- within the medical profession.

Whatever the process . . . however it came about . . . 

Living and dying is a journey of complexities in our society.  

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