To be alone after the death of someone you love, someone you’ve lived with, is not a cookie-cut experience. Have you imagined, or perhaps you know, how you behaved?
I couldn’t sleep. I could not dispel the horrific image of John when I last saw him in the hospice. Turning on the bedside light, I got up and walked into the office where I found our wedding album. Back in bed with the album, I slowly turned page after page, lingering over each photo, reliving the memories that made me smile. Opening the drawer of the bedside table, I found the e-mail that John had sent me from Santa Fe more than two years earlier, telling me how much he loved me. Weeping as I read, I felt that my heart had irreparably broken.
There are things to be done after someone dies. Part of me knew what to do, the conscious part that remembered what I had done after my first husband Joe died. Would you know?
Leaving the meditation room, I called the funeral home. I asked that John’s body be picked up from the hospice and delivered to the home for cremation I have no memory of going to the home but I must have, to sign papers, arrange payment and request multiple copies of the death certificate.
Has anyone ever told you how unsettling it can be to see someone you love who has died?
Walking into the hospice meditation room, I was not prepared for what I saw. John’s body was sitting up in bed. Yes, it was John but he looked as though he had been made up for a horror show. His skin was a bilious yellow, one eye half-open, the other closed. He felt clammy to the touch. I wondered whether he had died many hours before my arrival. I once attended an open-casket funeral for a woman who had died of cancer. At the time I was astonished by her color. Her skin had been the color of John’s. I did not know what had caused it — morphine? Cancer?
Many of us imagine being at the bedside of someone we love when that person dies. Being present sounds like the easiest thing, especially when death is expected. But if you’re not there, does death wait? Does it really matter?
On Tuesday morning I kept an appointment with my therapist. When I returned to the condo, the phone rang. It was the social worker at the hospice, telling me John had died that morning. She said a volunteer had been with him. I swallowed hard. I should have been there, I thought. I should have been with him. Did he know I wasn’t with him? One thought consoled me: When John opened his eyes on Saturday, I was with him, holding his hand. In that moment I felt he had said goodbye and taken leave on his own terms.
Posted in Journey
Have you ever experienced something that seems miraculous?
On Saturday morning John did not wake for breakfast. That afternoon, while Kerry and Dick took a long walk, I sat beside John’s bed, holding his hand and stroking his arm. Suddenly, his head turned toward me and his beautiful blue eyes opened wide. “Oh my darling, lower your gaze.” I wanted him to look at me. He did although he seemed to be looking beyond me, his pupils the size of pinpoints. I jumped up and found a nurse, telling her that john had opened his eyes. “Consider it a gift,” she said, as she hurried in and called out his name. John’s head moved in her direction slightly. “He’s with you,” she said. “Tell him how much you love him.” I did, again and again. Was it happenstance or did John know I was with him? When Kerry and Dick returned, his eyes were closed.
How do you feel when you’re focused on your own medical emergency and you learn that someone you love, who is in a hospice, has suffered a seizure?
Speeding toward the hospice, I didn’t know what to expect. John had been smiling, looking good when I kissed him goodnight. Hurrying into his room, I was brought up short. He was in bed, his torso turned away from the window, his head bent toward a pillow. He looked jaundiced, his closed eyes sunken. Kerry, his sister-in-law, was at his bedside. She handed me a Kleenex. She said John had been given a lot of medication to make him comfortable. It was Friday morning. The social worker was right. “A lot can happen between now and Tuesday.” I should have been here. I should have been here to try to comfort him. Instead, I was tending to my own medical crisis.
There’s an adage about caregivers that goes something like this: a caregiver needs to take care of the caregiver or she/he won’t be of much use to the patient. Easier said than done. How does one control for stress?
After midnight I was awakened by a stabbing pain in my left eye. I knew what it was: HSV-1 (Herpes Simplex Virus-1) blisters on my cornea, triggered by emotional stress. I’d first received the DX when my parents were seriously ill. The condition requires immediate treatment with a refrigerated anti-viral medication that pharmacies don’t always have on hand. My ophthalmologist was in D.C. I called his number and left a message, explaining that I couldn’t drive in to see him and asking him to call in the RX to a pharmacy in Reston. I knew I had to treat my eye before I could return to the hospice to see John.
How would you react if a hospice nurse told you that you have to move your loved one out of the inpatient hospice?
My jaw dropped. “What are you talking about?” I asked. My husband was dying. Of course, he was alert and eating well. He had been given an injection by the doctor who said it would enable John to be alert for 3 – 4 days. He called it the “honeymoon period” after which John would sleep until the end. I was furious with the male nurse for speaking in front of John who was, indeed, alert. I was also anxious and confused.
Can you imagine participating in a wine-tasting after you are admitted to an inpatient hospice?
After clearing it with the doctor, John’s brother Dick asked John if he’d like to taste some good red wine. John nodded “Yes.” Dick said he would bring it in the next day. On Wednesday, the hospice staff, with John’s smiling encouragement transferred him to a lounge chair. Dick wheeled him outside to the gazebo. It was a lovely spring day. Neighbors Jack and Kathy arrived and joined us in the gazebo where the five of us enjoyed some very good red wine. John consumed 4-5 ounces after which he napped for a while.