One of the most helpful things I learned when my Mom was dying was in the middle of the night.
Normally the nights were uneventful, but this one was a doozy. She was yelling something about the mama and the baby and the man and it didn’t make sense. I have a pretty good ability at being able to understand people who can’t communicate well, but I was at a loss here. I was alone with her, as I was during most of that year she was sick. When her sickness became terminal, we were even more left by ourselves.
She was under the care of hospice by that time, but that didn’t mean they were there. She was at home, not in a facility. A nurse would come by once a day for about twenty minutes. Towards the end a sitter would come for a few hours as well. A social worker would come out maybe once a week and say useless things like “what do you regret not having done with your life?”
The goal I suspect was to figure out if some of these unfulfilled life goals could be completed. In reality the effect was to drive home how much of her life hadn’t been lived.
This night she was wild. I called the number that hospice had given, asking what to do. The nurse decided to send someone out to the house. That was a long wait, alone in the dark with someone who was hysterical and dying. Somehow things seem more intense at night.
When the nurse came, he talked with her and listened to her and he was just as confused by what she was saying as it was. It was as if she was having a waking nightmare. He gave her ativan, which is really valium. That did the trick. He left me with some and told me how to administer them to her when she got to the point that she couldn’t swallow.
We sat and talked for a bit, and I’m grateful that he saw that part of his field of care involved me. Often the caregiver is ignored in favor of the patient. Both have needs. This was a new and strange thing for both of us.
He said this – “People tend to die the way that they live.”
This has stuck with me all this time, nearly 20 years now.
He asked if she smoked cigarettes. Yes. That was what was killing her. She smoked for half her life, and I remember that she lit up a cigarette every twenty minutes. It had become such an addiction that she didn’t want to go to the movies because she couldn’t imagine an hour or so not smoking.
That is an addiction. That is a desperate need to relax using chemicals.
Being terminal is stressful. Dying at 53 is stressful. Having not fulfilled your life goals is stressful.
It would be a miracle if she learned how to deal with her emotions not using chemicals now. So she didn’t. She was on ativan until she died, as a substitute for nicotine.
I find it funny (not funny ha-ha) that she didn’t want to take her pain medicine because she didn’t want to become an addict, not realizing that she already was one. But socially accepted addictions are different, right?
If people tend to die the way they live, how will you die?
More importantly, how will you live, knowing that you will die?