Dying a good death

Is there such a thing?

I just read an article in today’s Wall Street Journal, “A Full Life to the End.” http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324577304579054880302791624.html?

It’s adapted from the book “Knocking on Heaven’s Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death,” by Katy Butler, and due out on Sept. 10.  So, I guess there is if you’re able to leave this world on your own terms whether it be doing anything and everything to prolong life or choose palliative care.  As my generation of those born in the 1950’s and perhaps later face the imminent passing of our parents, it’s important to honor whatever wishes of dying they have.

Once my mom approached her 80’s she would comment that “we’re just living too long.”  I would say, “Oh, come on, mom. It all depends on your quality of life.” I believe she had a good one…until she didn’t. She had directives of no heroics.

We talked about her dementia, however uncomfortable it was for me because while I acknowledged it privately, I was in denial that she had Alzheimer’s. I wish I had been more honest with myself about it because maybe I would have handled some things differently. Mom had a wonderful speech therapist and we often discussed her condition and progress. But I remember getting annoyed with mom when she couldn’t use her TV remote as I explained certain buttons to her. There were times when either I just forgot or didn’t want to acknowledge the increasing limitations of her cognitive ability. Why? My denial or acceptance was not going to change things. I’m still baffled by it.

One of my biggest regrets is not being there when mom took her last breath.

I had sat vigil with her in hospice for two weeks, about 10 hours a day. During the second week she was sleeping a lot more and less awake. I still talked to her, stroked her hands and face. The night before she passed way I decided I needed to sleep in a little and was going to come in a little later that morning. Where was my head? Her doctor had told me that it was going to happen that weekend. Why didn’t I just stay with her overnight?

The hospice nurses assured me mom was not alone, that they were there. But I wasn’t there. And to me, that makes the biggest difference in the world.

Still, I am grateful that mom suffered no pain, and went peacefully.




4 thoughts on “Dying a good death

  1. I feel the same way about not being with mom at the very end, though she passed in the middle of the night. Her nurse thought she would live a week or two longer so after I brought dad to see her and then returned alone, I went home for the night. I was deep asleep when they called that she had passed. I felt like I had let her down and myself as well.

    But later I wondered if she didn’t somehow wait to be alone as I have heard some people do. I think if I look at the whole picture for me, and for you also, we were there most of the daytime hours most of the days approaching the last one. That gave comfort when our moms needed it most.

    We should not feel guilt now that they are gone. We did our best and that was all we could do. I was so exhausted I was deep asleep when the phone rang. And I bet you were extremely tired too. Now as I look back, I am just glad I could be there for mom during her last illness since my siblings were not. Mom and I were close and she depended on me more than ever during that last illness.

    • Thank you for your comments. You’re right. We were both with our mothers when they needed us. They say hearing is the last to go and after a nurse explained the very final aspects of dying I said to her that I didn’t think I could handle it and wasn’t sure if I could be there. I have to believe mom heard me and spared me that pain.

  2. I spent the last night of my mom’s life with her – in many ways I am glad I was there. In other ways it was a terrifying night for me and one that I will never forget. I said I wanted to be there when my mom took her last breath, but in truth I was petrified. I think my mom knew that, as she died about 2 hours after I left the house that morning. She was home, where she wanted to be, and with her husband. Thanks for sharing.

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