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Posts Tagged ‘death’


Few people are comfortable talking about death. But those who are dying often long to talk about it. Most don’t because they know it is uncomfortable for their loved ones or because they sense it is a taboo subject.

I have been on both sides of the debate; in a position of being near death and longing for its release, and being with those who are dying, supporting their need to talk about it and be given permission to let go when they were ready.

My father suffered immeasurably as he died slowly and painfully with bone cancer. My brother made all the decisions: if he should take the morphine, if it was better to have him alert but in pain, if they should have a nurse help or if he would do it all himself, believing only he could take care of him, if they should disconnect his defibrillator/pacemaker before the day came his body gave in and it would keep shocking him. My sister and I were 1,300 away, so we had no choice but to defer to him, even when we didn’t agree with his decisions. My father privately called to talk to me about hospice, then after he unloaded his needs, made me promise not to tell my mother and brother that he called. They were insistent that he didn’t need it, because they were not accepting the reality of the situation as easily as my father did.

It was a year filled with anxiety. Traveling to where he lived when it looked like the end was near, then having him rally at seeing his girls and or grandchildren who accompanied us on some of the trips. Then a few months of the same and starting the cycle over again. It was a full year before he succumbed, and we were fortunate to be with him when he finally let go. But even at that moment, my mother was still in denial, trying to will my father into living as he drew his last breaths. And me, now the mother to the child, telling her to stop so his last moment on earth would be peaceful; not filled with worry about her. He had already sacrificed enough, holding on for their sake, in spite of excruciating pain. It was time to let him go.

I know how much he suffered because I was in his shoes. Not for as long, not suffering with cancer, but I was in a place of terrible physical suffering. I was not as stalworth as he was, rather begging to be let free of my life so the pain would stop. But my family would not hear of it. And because I was in and out of consciousness, I was sometimes in charge of my destiny, and other times it was ceded to my husband, who would never make the decision to let me go.

Hindsight is 20-20 of course, and now I am glad we all fought for my life, but the memory of that time is still fresh, even 4+ years later. I see every opportunity as a gift, every day as a bonus. My perspective is different. I am unwilling to put up with nonsense because most of it is unimportant. I am able to ask for what I need (most of the time) and say no when it compromises something else more important to me.

But back to the point of this post. Death comes to us all. sometimes willingly; sometimes not. Sometimes too soon, sometimes when we have lived enough and are ready. But it will come, one way or another. So we should consider that discussing death, our wishes for it if we do have a choice, and planning for the matters that need to be addressed, is actually the more practical and kind thing to do. Especially if it is known that the end of someone’s life is approaching. The gift of listening to the person who wishes to talk about it is comforting to both that person and to those who listen. It is a gift to those who must deal with the formalities of death, to grant the dying person’s wishes.

Let’s take the discussion of death out of the closet. It will reduce the fear it instills. It puts death into the category of one of life’s stages to be experienced, in all its complexities, vulnerabilities and honor.

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There are times we think of those who have left our lives. Birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, holidays and memories of special events. More often than not, it is because we have been separated by death.

My friend, who does have a living mother, and children living nearby, is hosting a bunch of her friends (me included) this Mother’s Day. I thought, “How nice. She is inviting her motherless friends to celebrate Mother’s Day.”

As I was thinking about those reopening the wounds of their departed mothers each Mother’s Day, it struck me that I DO have a living mother, yet I am in their company. I’m sure there are others who, for whatever reason, are estranged from their mothers. It’s been four years since I last spoke to mine. The separation was not my choice, but her conditions were out of the question. If I wanted to have her in my life, I’d also have to suffer the presence and influence of my younger brother, who in my mind, is pure evil. After decades of trying to keep the peace with him, and as determined as I was not to allow him to disturb me, he kept finding ways to undo whatever calm I could muster. I concluded that blood or not, I could no longer allow such negativity in my life without risking my health.

So began an estrangement that I could not understand. As a mother myself, and knowing how deeply I love my two children, I could not fathom choosing one and abandoning the other. My mother sacrificed two daughters (my sister and I) for the sake of her son. It started with me wondering, after the last standoff conversation, if she would send birthday cards to either of us. Nope. I couldn’t imagine my children’s birthdays, a celebration of when they entered my life, passing without me needing to connect with them. The bond is so strong, it is almost physical, even long after they have grown to adulthood and moved away. Yet four birthdays for each of us have come and gone with nary a call or card to acknowledge them.

Although I am not a religious person, at the beginning I invoked the serenity prayer. It gave me a framework to “Accept the things I cannot change and the wisdom to know the difference.” There was no other choice for my sister or me, without agreeing to be continually poisoned by the son my mother chose.

Each year it became less painful, like it does when you lose a loved one. It just catches me by surprise sometimes, that I do have a living mother out there, when I’ve been living as if she died four years ago.

 

 

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The internet is abuzz with the tragic news of Robin Williams’ death. We struggle to understand how someone with so much talent and apparent good fortune could take his life. Depression knows no socioeconomic boundaries. Everyone is equally vulnerable. But those who share his struggle DO understand.
Depression and mental illness in general, is finally coming out of the closet. Those in it’s grip live with unimaginable demons. They are forced to hide them to be socially acceptable, so often struggle alone.
Being famous or heavily relied upon only make the isolation worse. It is difficult, though he did share his struggle, to disappoint the fans. The world’s response to Mr. Williams’ death confirms this. We are mourning the loss of a future without the enormous contributions he would have made – the potential enjoyment of his considerable talent. People say, “What a waste,” or “I can’t understand how he could throw everything away.”
As someone who has struggled with depression, I understand how driven to despair one can be at times. It has been debilitating, a cause of shame, something to hide, something to get through or get over. And it was totally out of my control as were the events that often preceded those times.
But I have never reached the depth of despair Mr. Williams must have felt, that would cause me to take my life.
Let us be grateful to him for the hours of happiness he gave us, in spite of the tremendous toll it took on him. Let us thank his family for sacrificing him for our pleasure. Let us hope he has found peace after all his suffering. And may he somehow know that his life meant so much to so many of us.

RIP

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I work in a hospital as a Registered Dietetic Technician. I screen patients for nutritional risk, provide education for  theraputic diets and food/drug interactions. But that isn’t the greatest part of the job. The most rewarding times are those when a deep connection is made with a patient or family member. I’ve tried to analyze how or why it happens when it does, and concluded that it isn’t so simple.

Human connection is obviously found in lifelong friendships. But it is those fleeting, temporary connections that intrigue me.

A patient with Parkinson’s disease struggled to communicate with me. His tremors were so bad, speech was excruciatingly difficult. Time slowed as I stayed with him, watching him painfully, frustratingly, trying to say something. Word by word, I was able to discern that he was very intelligent, educated, lucid. And that he wanted to die.

When I asked if he wanted to speak with a member of the clergy or a counselor, he struggled to say, “I’d like to speak with you.”  There is a fine line professionally, between doing the job I am employed to do, and providing patient care, in the full sense. And I am drawn to those who need to talk about their feelings about their wish to die when they are suffering, and their families can’t hear them.

So I pulled up a chair, took his hand in mine and listened as he shared his wish to end his suffering with a terrible disease that has trapped his agile mind in a crippled body. I returned to visit him a number of times, even though he was not on my daily list of patients. I listened to his younger wife, who seemed still to believe he should be fighting for his life.

I heard his suffering. I could do nothing to ease it, but listen.

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Sometimes we are blessed with relatives we would choose as friends. All too often however, we are instead, “stuck” with those whom we wish we could disassociate.

As a second generation immigrant, my father grew up in close proximity to family; cousins, 2nd cousins, etc. As they moved away, staying in touch meant traveling pre-interstate highways, to (then) rural Connecticut, from New York City. I remember these trips to the farm; the friendly relatives, the chickens and bringing home freshly laid eggs. It was a treat to be in the fresh air and countryside. Ever an observer of nature and people, I took in the “different” sights, sounds and odors of the experience.

Because of the relationships fostered then, we continue in this generation, to stay in touch with some of our distant relatives. Of course, technology makes it even easier now. We share a common “memory,” which keeps us connected. Even though many years may pass between seeing each other, that common bond makes it easy to pick up where we left off.

I remain in touch with most of my first cousins, with various levels of contact, save for two of them, who have remained elusive. Despite a warm relationship with this aunt, uncle and cousins when we were kids, we became estranged at some point in adulthood. Our invitations to joyous family events were ignored, so we took the hint and just stopped reaching out. One of the two cousins stayed in touch for awhile, but only because her abusive lifestyle required money and housing. Eventually, she wore out her welcome.

My father and all his brothers are gone now. Recently, one of the estranged cousins passed away at age 53. Not shocking considering his family legacy of heart disease and a father and uncles who had early heart attacks. But sad just the same. He was the first of our generation and a wakeup call to us all.

They lived far away and only one of the cousins attended the funeral. some of us discussed it. We all felt no connection. There was no relationship, in spite of the blood that bound us. I vacillated between the “should” and “why?” question. The “should” because he was family; the “why?” because he didn’t include us as such in his life.

The “why?” won out and I have made my peace. I left a comment on the online memory book. I will reach out to his wife to express my sympathy. And that will be appropriate for this relationship.

As to his sister, I planned to do much the same, in spite of her past behavior. After all, she is the last in her family to survive. I understand she would feel alone in a way that most people her age would not. But I struggle to be benevolent with someone who has hurt and  cheated so many people and dramatized life’s events as all hers, without regard to how anyone else is affected. I resent her rambling public FB post insulting our family for not supporting her, as if she had a right to it. To those who know nothing of her past behavior and disrespect of her family, she looks like the victim.

So to my cousin’s immediate family: wife, children and grandchildren, who will truly miss someone they held dear, I will send my love. I will need some time to figure out an appropriate way to reach out to the self-centered sister whose only reaction at her brother’s loss is to try and make her the center of attention once again.

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Loss is always hard. We lost our dog of over 10 years last night.

Spencer just enjoyed his last stay at the lake. We knew it would be his last as he has been declining. My son took him and Sadie home on Sunday so my husband and I could enjoy a little free time without having to worry about being back for the dogs.

Last night he didn’t come running for his dinner; rather asked to go out. After awhile, my son called to him and for 2 hours, he didn’t come. He called us and was spooked about looking for him in the woods. We knew things were not right and that this would not end well. Our friends went over in the morning (thank you so much L&P) and found Spencer lying in the woods. He died during the night. They say some animals go away to die alone.

I worried about my 20-year old son – how he was feeling to be there without us. Yet, death, a rite of passage, must come for all of us. Although we had lost pets in the past, none was so up close and personal for my son.

Fortunately, Spencer was happy until the end. He never complained about his arthritic hips, and wagged his tail whenever we came near. He spared us having to decide when his quality of life was no longer viable by choosing his own time and place.

In spite of my complaints about his sometimes naughty behavior, he was a gentle soul; always trustworthy and loving with children.

We will miss him and only hope he finds Vita and Sammie, who went to dog heaven before him.

Spencer’s last trip to Tunk Lake

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I’ve written about change. How it is inevitable. That we must adapt or perish. And I even like it that way. But sometimes, just sometimes, I wish it would pause for a little longer, so we could relish it when it’s really good.
Parents feel this when they notice their little boy is suddenly more independent – or leaves for college – or moves into his own home. We wanted this, we aspired to this, but the reality is bittersweet.
We feel this when we suffer loss – of a dream, of an ideal, of innocence. But usually a better situation emerges, and we grow. But the loss of people we love does not work this way. The loss leaves a hole they inhabited in our hearts. Their uniqueness can never be replaced. We can move on, love other people, live good lives, but it will always be without them, and forever altered.
I feel this coming once again, as I face losing a dear friend. A friend introduced to me by an old boyfriend, yet the friendship remained through new marriages, losses, remarriage and children. A friend who inspired me to nurture my art talents, who encouraged my work and who has shared his own family with me. A man who made me laugh until my sides split, who did outrageous things do inspire that laughter. A man who accumulated a cadre of lifelong friends who love him because he has enough love for all of us.
He isn’t up to the throngs of visitors who want to share his last weeks or months with him. And his family needs to be with him. I respect that. But I am already beginning to mourn the loss, since he is slipping away.
I will honor his memory by continuing to pursue my art and staying connected with his family, who I also love deeply. But I will miss my friend – always. I can only hope his last days are filled with love, beautiful words shared among his friends and family. And I wish for his family, strength and courage in the coming years without him.

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