Sunday, November 11, 2012

Is there a 'right" way to die?

A few weeks back I got a call that she was very sick and in the hospital, again.  This was her fifth or sixth hospitalization since I moved to Kentucky, her first being the day I left Miami. This time she had gone in due to out of control edema related to congestive heart failure.  However, once she was in the hospital, she had a sudden drop in all her blood counts, and was in grave condition.  I debated with myself for a day on whether to go to Miami or not, as my funds are limited and I had just traveled down in August.  Do I go for the end, or go to the funeral.... as my aunt was basically going through this whole ordeal alone, I opted for going rather than waiting.

When I arrived to the hospital, my grandmother was awake, and somewhat lucid, but confused. She was eating and drinking some, but not much. But, by the next day she was in a steep decline. She was either asleep or having hallucinations of long dead relatives.We encouraged her to eat anything at all, and basically were yogurt and soup-ing her like crazy.

Then news came back that a nodule was found on her lung, and they wanted to do a PET scan. Now, my grandmother is 82 years old. She is a very bad patient, and any therapies or interventions they would want to do, she would refuse. So, the decision was made by her and my family that it was time for hospice care at home. Really, there was nothing that was being done in the hospital that we could not do for my grandmother  at home. And she would rather be home....

We got her room all set up, and we got her home, and my aunt and I took care of her. My grandmother was now bed-bound and using diapers.... I never thought I would see the day.  We changed her, we fed her, and we did our best to keep her comfortable. Those first days home she was rarely awake and frequently confused or hallucinating.

A week after arriving, I had to return home to Kentucky and my family, which felt like both terrible and a relief. I really wanted to be there to help my aunt and cousin, and to take care of my grandmother, but the stress and exhaustion was relentless.  Plus, I had my family here... and they need me, too. And I am the sole earner in my household.

After I got home, I continued to call my aunt several times a day, to give her advice, encouragement and support. During one call I heard my grandmother say, "I can't even die right," meaning that she was lingering on and did not die within a day or two of being home. By the weekend, she was in decline, again. Then she had several visitors, one of whom was her estranged son, and this really perked her up.

Emotionally, my whole family is on a roller coaster.... each day is up or down, and we don't know how long Grandma will be with us.... during her acute phase we grieved, but then she gets better and we are relieved but wary....then she declines....and we just don't know...

Grandma wants to go....she is tired, tired of being in pain, depressed at the loss of her active life, independence, and dignity. She has had years and years of health problems, and now she is reaching the end, slowly........but short of suicide, there is no way to speed death... it comes when it comes.

I talk to her whenever I call and she is awake.... each time she sounds smaller, more tired...her mind which was always so sharp has gone fuzzy, and the last time we spoke she told me she could not remember her own name....she has lost every pleasure in life that she had, even reading her beloved books, and that is so sad.

As a child I loved my grandmother more than anybody else in my life.  I looked forward to every moment spent with her. I thought she was glamorous, important and she loved me so much.... As an adult, my love for her has not changed, nor hers for me. Every visit to grandma's was like a hug, always warm and welcome.  She always gave me encouragement, and believed in me. I am going to miss her so much......

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