Thursday, September 13, 2012

Not Knowing: Grandmom's Story, Part 3

In reading the book "Final Gifts: Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs, and Communications of the Dying," by Maggie Callanan and Patricia Kelly, I came across many things that spoke to me in regards to what my family and I had experienced during the end of Dad's illness.  I read the book with a goal of gaining some insight and perhaps even some perspective about my dad's death, and, in the process, I began to see that there might be another reason for the recent changes in my grandmother's emotional state besides the cognitive decline associated with her medical condition.

One section of the book is about things that may be needed in order for a person to die peacefully:

"Some people realize a need for reconciliation.  Some request the removal of a barrier standing in the way of a peaceful death. Still others need particular circumstances to die peacefully - perhaps choosing the time of their death or the people who will be there.

Realizing what they need, dying people often become concerned; some communicate a tremendous urgency.  Coherent requests usually bring action.  But requests that are vague or indirect may be missed or ignored, leading to frustration, anxiety, and sometimes agitation.  If the awareness of an important need comes late - when death seems to be imminent - the person may delay or prolong the process of dying in an attempt to settle an issue or effect a final reconciliatory meeting.

A person's anxiety, agitation, or prolonged dying can be upsetting for everyone ... Often, the response to agitation is to sedate the patient ... Sedatives may help relieve agitation, but medicines alone are not the answer."

Reading these passages caused me to see some things in a new light, not just about my dad's passing but about Grandmom in her terminal condition, including the fact that our decision not to tell her about Dad's illness or his death might not be the best choice.  According to the authors, "Sometimes a family decides to withhold info about the death of someone the dying person knows.  While this is typically done out of kindness and concern, the truth often brings peace instead of discomfort or upset to the dying person."

I shared that insight with my mom and my sisters, and we decided that Grandmom needed to be told about Dad.  None of us wanted to do it, but we believed it was in her best interest and we hoped the information would help to ease her mind.  As my sister Jennifer recounts, "We were so worried that she would get the idea that he abandoned her, that he didn't want to visit her again, or maybe even that he didn't love her anymore, and of course we wanted to do anything we could to prevent her from those thoughts, which of course were absolutely untrue."  We resolved to tell her the next time one of us could go with Mom to visit her. 

Shortly after that, on the Tuesday before Dad's burial was scheduled on Saturday, Jennifer arrived at our parents' house, and she and Mom went together to see Grandmom.  Here is Jennifer's recollection of what happened when they got to the nursing home:

We rounded the corner and saw that Grandmom was sitting up in her wheelchair, which was parked just outside her bedroom door.  We greeted her, and then I kneeled down right in front of her and held both of her fragile hands in mine.  I said something like this:

"Grandmom, I want to tell you something that might make you sad, but I feel like you need to know, and  I don't want you to worry.  Bill was sick and had cancer.  He went to the best doctors and the best hospitals, but, even as strong as he was, he was not able to fight off the cancer.  He passed away and is in heaven now with God and with Roy [our grandfather, Grandmom's late husband].  He is not in any pain.  You should not worry.  Vicki and Stephanie and Nancy and I were all with him while he was sick, and we took good care of him.  He always asked about you and tried so hard to come back to see you again, but he was too sick.  You were so important to him, and he loved you so much.  We promised him that we will take care of you no matter what. Then, when God decides it is your time, you will get to go to heaven and be with Bill and Roy again."

Somehow I did it without crying -- I just felt really focused on giving Grandmom some relief and definitely did not want to cause her any additional sadness or worry about why I was sad, and so I just talked clearly and slowly and looked right into her eyes and told her.  She wasn't really able to talk much, but she definitely seemed to be listening to me, and I truly think had a look of relief and understanding on her face after she heard the news.  She did not cry.  A little while later, when we left, I hugged her again and told her I loved her and that Dad loved her and that we did not want her to worry. 

In the days that followed and over the course of the next two months, the nurses reported that she was sleeping better and was much less anxious.  She required fewer medications and wasn't crying anymore.  We like to think it was because she understood that her son loved her until he took his last breath and that, given the information about what had happened to Dad, she was able to hold onto the belief that he had gone on ahead but was waiting for her in heaven. 

To Be Continued - Part 4 of Grandmom's Story, Coming Soon

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

What I Miss the Most, Today

I recently signed up for an online class that looks at dealing with grief through writing.  This week's assignment is to write about what we miss the most about the person for whom we are grieving.  This is my entry, which is kind of a follow-up to the original What I Miss The Most post from last October ...

I guess the thing I miss the most about my dad is his enthusiasm.  He was without a doubt the most gung-ho (he loved that term) person I've ever known, always motivated and always looking at the glass as half full, and his contagious energy was something that affected everyone in his presence.  That ties into what I have come to realize was the best thing he left to those of us who were lucky enough to have known him: his perspective.  During my life, I observed him so many times in the role of the life of the party, a great conversationalist, and a friend to so many; I always thought he was so popular because he was so much fun to be around.  But after he went on ahead I realized from things that people (some of whom I didn't know even though they knew my dad) told us that it was actually his kindness and his positivity that attracted so many people to him, and I saw how far reaching his genuineness and his perspective truly were.  

     What I wear on my wrist every day to remind myself to try to be positive,
just like my dad 

I am trying hard to emulate that benevolence in my daily life these days, but, in the midst of my grief, I am finding it to be very hard to do so.  I miss my dad and his zeal for life so much that it often makes me angry and/or sad; I know that's just part of the grief process, but it makes me feel like I am not honoring him or carrying on in his footsteps when I can't be as excited and cheerful as he always was.