Friday, December 28, 2012

The unsound mind in a sound body

     My mother passed away a couple of months ago.  She was advanced in years – 96 of them actually.  While sound of body, she was not sound of mind having been troubled with Alzheimer’s disease for a very long period.  My reckoning makes it almost 20 years.  This is a very long time to suffer from any disease.    This blog is not about the ravages of dementia, the lives it affects or the stress placed on the caregivers.  Instead it is about the end of life itself. 

     For Caroline Metzger Kulzer Sladek, the end itself was peaceful enough.  It was the getting there that troubles me still.  For the past two years, she smiled when spoken to.  She opened her mouth when food or drink was presented.  Sounds were omitted – words certainly but without context.  Some friends went so far as to say she was happy. 

     The  woman who was my mother was a private person.  To know that she was the subject of such conjecture would have been anathema to her.  The woman who was my mother actually passed from this world into another one years before her body died.  And yet, allowing that body to join her spirit, electrical energy, soul, whatever you are happy to call our mental essence, was difficult. 

     Her physical care for about 3 years was tended to by a nursing facility.  Able, caring and even loving people worked there.  It was always clean and smelling as fresh as is possible in such surroundings.  As far as such places go, this was top of the list.  And yet, with life functions dwindling there was persistence, almost insistence that food and drink be administered, that blood tests be conducted, medication administered and that a trip to a hospital might be a good thing.  At all costs, the body alone should remain alive seemed to be the message.  When I asked why, they simply smiled and said that she was such a lovely patient.  End of life care was never mentioned even though the end of her life was imminent.

     Previously created documents concerning end of life care were produced.  But she’s such a lovely patient, shouldn’t we administer oxygen, antibiotics, x-rays or whatever was the reply.  No, let’s let her go as softly as possible.  But she’s such a lovely patient.  Enter the doctor who agreed that it was indeed the beginning of the end, wrote some things on a paper and left.  Food and medication arrived and something in my head said hospice.

     A hospice organization was selected and within only minutes the administrator arrived to take down details, review papers, and assess the situation.  Within minutes, my mother was in the hands of people who understood that the end of life is as much a part of living as being born.  Thank you for allowing her to glide gently from our presence and to continue her existence in our hearts and memories.

     The services offered by the many hospice organizations in place today are there for the survivors as much and maybe even more than for those who pass on.  They are a loving family, helping where and how they can, well-trained, practical and forthright.  They offered help with paperwork – that bane of our daily lives.  They offered spiritual aid.  They offered succor and council for those who grieve.  Asking for help can be difficult and for some, like me, almost impossible.   I learned that not asking for help does not mean you are stronger than Samson or smarter than Solomon.  It means you didn’t ask – nothing more – nothing less.  If your loved one is truly nearing the end, seek the help being offered by hospice.  If you wish that such a loving family were there for you in such circumstances, write it down – now.  How you get here is not up to you, but how you leave can and should be your decision.