Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Dance


What is it about death that hits you head on with a dose of reality? It's abrupt...even if still impending. And even though expected...you're never really ready to say goodbye with such finality.

As we were sitting in the chairs against the wall facing her bed...I was remembering that she was in the same room that I was first in a couple of years ago when I had sepsis. We never know how life is going to play out, but who would have thought that a little over two years later I would be visiting a dying relative in that very same room....a thought I could have done without.

We brought some spring flowers in for her to see. I made sure there were 3 sunflowers in the bouquet because my husband grows beautiful sunflowers and I wanted to remind her of his garden because she always admired it. And I wanted to bring a little springtime into her room.

She asked to hold something and we figured it was the sunflower. So my -m-i-l dried it off and and placed it in her hand. She could barely hold it and then wanted to give it back and then said she couldn't hold anything anymore. She could barely get her words out and it was hard to understand her. But she did remark about the flowers in the vase a couple of times. It warmed my heart to know that even through her dire pain and illness that the flowers had cheered her.

My m-i-l is a stoic woman and rarely if ever lets you know she is hurting physically or emotionally. She never wants to burden anyone with her problems. She was sitting by the window, facing her sister when she suddenly burst into tears, sobbing silently. It broke my heart instantly to see her grieving for her sister. I instantly thought of 35mm b&w pictures...the kind that capture these real life moments in time. And then my husband jumped up to console her and again my brain was clicking away with imaginary 35mm B&W pics. You know the kind ...they're arty with their varying shades and shadows, capturing the poignant moments of real life, speaking volumes about that moment in time.

There is never enough time at the end to say everything. I wanted to say so much more on Thursday but I followed the others. Because after all... if I spoke with my heart...then it would've been obvious it was a final goodbye. But no one else was addressing anything that way.

The second I saw her...I knew...I knew this was the end. But this was the dance of denial and I was caught up in it...but as a hostage...not a willing participant.

The others went over to say goodbye and that they would see her tomorrow. I was last.

The whole time I was there she was restlessly lying on her side and then someone turned her on her back and she seemed more comfortable. She had her bed raised up and it seemed she was much more alert now that we were leaving. I know she didn't want to be alone there.

Her eyes were open wide now. My heart was breaking inside and I wanted to say things...so many nice things...but no one else did...and so I remained silent with those thoughts. But I took her hand and while looking into her eyes I simultaneously gently squeezed her hand and said, "I love you D." And she mustered up a slight smile and said, "I love you too." Our eyes still locked and probably, mine were now searching hers and wanting to tell her so much more and I repeated"I love you." while again squeezing her hand. She again repeated that she loved me but this time there was a glimpse of something different.

Did she recognized something different in me? Did I alarm her in some way because she saw my sadness and concern or worse desperation? Had she still had hope even then? Because neither she nor anyone else ever mentioned that she might die. Did I take that hope away at the moment our eyes were speaking? I know she knew I loved her but did I say too much with my eyes or telling her I loved her twice? And truthfully...I didn't know if I would see her alive again. As it turned out she could no longer effectively communicate by the next day.

The unspoken dance of denial is a difficult dance and I am not sure if it really helps anyone. I think it's better to be up front, honest and open...there is freedom in that. But it wasn't my call and really...who is to say there is a right way or a wrong way. It's whatever works for the patient and those most involved in their care.

She came home a day and a half later to her hospice bed. She was unable to communicate but one sister told me that she seemed to perk up when she was told that she was home now. I believe that. They say the hearing is the last to go and I think she heard everything. The house had been bustling with family and friends that came to say goodbye. I got there later because I had to take my mother on errands. But when I went in to see her I said, "Hi D...it's Pat" and with that she did seem to stir upward ever so slightly and I do think she knew we were all there.

Our 6 yr old granddaughter made her the sweetest most heartbreaking card on printer paper. In big letters across the upper half of the page she wrote in all large boldly colored letters the word PLEASE and then underneath she wrote:

PLEASE (Across the top half of paper)
To my aunt dee from little Devan (and mommy/peggy)
get well soon.
and i love you with all my heart
so goodbye (crying face)
I don't want you to go.
Get well soon.
and i love you with all my heart
so goodbye (crying face)
I don't want you to go.

I was reading it out loud and choked up and other people got teary eyed as well.

She was in her home and with her loving family now. This is what she wanted. She died peacefully sometime in the early morning hours before 3 am.

Death is so final. It pierces your heart like nothing else can.


Elaine said...

Oh Seaspray.

These feelings must be universal, I think.

I weep with you.

Chrysalis Angel said...

Don't worry Seaspray...I think she knew what was in your heart. I used to take care of some hospice patients, and there just seemed to be a knowing in the air. It seemed like they knew and I knew when I said good night - that they would be going home, and I wouldn't see them here again. I'm sorry for your loss.

peggy said...

Devan's letter said
To my aunt dee from little Devan (and mommy/peggy)

get well soon.
and i love you with all my heart
so goodbye (crying face)
I don't want you to go.

(it's one of the saddest things i've ever seen so it's burned in my memory. i wish it could have been buried with D. but I didn't think of it until it was too late.)

SeaSpray said...

Thank you so much Elaine. Yes universal in the family of man.

Hi Angel-I do think that most of us would just know because of how we would be feeling and maybe an intuition too.

Thank you for your kind words.

Hi Peggy- Thank you for the correction. I revised it in the post.

We will all miss her. Mom said it was a keeper and so I am sure she will put it someplace special.