They have been there for you since before you were born. Holding you when you cried, teaching you the ways of the world, making each day worthwhile and loving you more today than they did yesterday. Your loved one cared for you when you needed them and now you find yourself caring for them.
Each day has turned into a schedule of nurses, feedings, hygiene care, and sitting by their bedside. You’re up at the crack of dawn, you work eight hours a day in which you entrust the care of your loved one in someone else’s hands. After work you head straight to their side. Sometimes you sleep, but most of the time you watch them silently. Days soon run together as you watch them quickly slipping away.
When the doctor breaks you the news of the time frame they have left, it feels like the storm clouds are rolling in. You find yourself in denial at first, talking the doctor into making you believe that there is something else that you can do, or finding ways to trick yourself into thinking they’ll be around for a long time and this isn’t really happening. You look at your loved one and they don’t look bad at all. Except for a few small things, they are the same fun loving person you have always known.
The doctor gives you the option of them breaking the news to them or if the family would like to do it. You decide that the family breaking this news would be best. At first you decide to just let your loved one know of the diagnosis, they look great still and you don’t want to destroy their willpower with telling them that they may only have a few weeks left. To your surprise, they take the diagnosis better than you did.
Days go by with no change or decline in their condition, but then out of nowhere, the ease of daily maintenance becomes harder and harder for them. Walking quickly becomes harder. Their pain worsens, and their sleeping more and more. Even though it’s only been a week or two since you received their diagnosis, you are still fighting with losing them. Your family realizes that it’s time to tell your loved one they are dying.
Breaking the news is something that no one in the family wants to do. Electing the best person to say this is heartbreaking. When you tell our loved one, you find you and your family crying, but your loved one doesn’t cry and only asks how much time they have. It is at that point where the storm clouds have completely rolled in and the darkness begins to engulf the home.
Since the news has been broken, you see your loved one giving into the inevitable and physically, mentally, and emotionally giving up. Your daily conversations with them you know could be your last as you realize that they are speaking less and less. When you are able to get them to laugh or break a smile, you feel as though you have made such a huge positive progress, but quickly realize that death is right around the corner.
It’s only been two weeks since the doctor gave you the diagnosis and suddenly you’ve gone from setting a goal to making them smile and keep up their strength to bringing in Hospice care, installing a hospital bed, and investing in adult diapers, bed liners, and pain medications. Your loved one barely speaks, but makes it known that they do not wish to die in a hospital or a nursing home. With each hour that passes a new symptom arises that causes their condition to downward spiral. The Hospice nurses prepare you as much as they can for what is to come. Even though the nurses are there for constant care, your loved one can be stubborn and even in their inability to speak; they still find ways to let the nurses know that your loved one only trusts you. So as the nurses and aides make most of the calls for care, you are still the one that can administer them in order to make your loved one as comfortable as possible.
The hours of life remaining turn into the possibility of minutes as you heed the warnings that death is near via your Hospice nurse. You’re told the steps your loved one will take to passing. Bodily functions will cease, once that happens they have less than 48 hours to live. As their organs begin to shut down and their body is not flushing out its fluids, they begin to consume their lungs. The Hospice nurse tells you of the ‘death rattle’. A death rattle is a gurgling or rattle-like noise produced shortly before death by the accumulation of excessive respiratory secretions in the throat.
Now that you are aware of what is to come, all that is left is waiting, and sitting by their side. They have stopped eating, talking, and their breathing becomes very shallow. As you watch your loved one’s body begins to shut down, what denial you still had is gone and the realism really hits home. You don’t want them to go, but after hours of watching them fight, you find yourself assuring them that you will take care of everyone and everything they are leaving behind and letting them know that it is okay to let go.
The ‘death rattle’ lasted hours before all of a sudden your loved one opens their eyes, speaks one word then passes. Your family is shocked, severely broken hearted, but yet relieved. Your loved one is in no more pain, they are at peace and in a way, and you are at peace as well to know that you kept them comfortable and did what they wanted you to do.
It’s been a month since my grandmother, Ruth, passed from colon cancer that had spread to her liver. While I watched her and cared for her in her last days, I began to realize that life’s dramas and petty issues mean nothing. The blame games, the dedication to your job, the debt or bills that can’t be paid, or the fight you had with someone, doesn’t matter.
Watching her pass was the most painful thing I have ever had to face or feel in my entire life. In the end, you realize that time on this Earth is so short and life is what you make of it. The good times, the fond memories, and the inner love and power to accomplish what you want to do with yourself and your life is in your hands. You don’t have time to let negative people and drama interfere with your dreams. Enjoy the little things, no matter how small they may be. Spend more time with your loved ones. You can always find another job, another car, another computer, but you can never replace a loved one that has passed. Their love and memories will haunt you forever and inspire you every minute of your life.
*This article is based upon my personal experience with watching my dear grandmother pass. Death is different for everyone and is handled differently for each individual and their families.