Two Ballsy Chicks Facing Death and Needing Guidance

My husband told me that when we first met, he was attracted to my confidence. Sure, he thought I was good-looking, but he really liked that my physical appearance wasn’t the most important thing about me. I’ve always taken that as the very best compliment. And he’s right; I am very confident. I don’t scare easily. I refuse to be intimidated by people or situations. Even when I am, I move forward. I don’t let fear stop me.

When he first described his mother to me, he said, “She’s got balls. She has enough raw bravado for her and 16 other people.” That statement made me really want to meet her.

As I got to know her, I found that he was right, and that her boldness had served her well. She had come to the US alone as a young woman. She had worked at the Ecuadorean Embassy and then, for the Organization of American States. She had spent her career comfortably rubbing shoulders with diplomats from around the world, and once retired, she volunteered at the White House where she came in contact with the Bushes, Condoleezza Rice, John McCain, and Colin Powell. New experiences and powerful people never unnerved her.

Because MIL’s unique brand of courage was completely unchecked, it could be amusing or even embarrassing. “Why aren’t you married?” she might ask a stranger. “Take this back to the kitchen!” she might order a waiter. Once after being pulled over by a police officer for a minor traffic infraction, she claimed she did not speak English. And she got away with it!

So, here we are: two ballsy chicks with an unexpected set of emotions. MIL is dying, and she and I both seem to need constant reassurance perhaps for the first time in our lives. She’s afraid to die. I know this because I had the guts to ask and she had the courage to be honest. We prayed about it then, and I continue to pray about it. I ask that God grant her peace so that when it is time for her to go, she won’t be frightened.

At this moment, I think “her time to go” could be today. Or next week. Or six months from now. I may be saying this prayer every night for some time to come. I know I will say it when I am alone in my bedroom and again, when I am holding her hand.

I’m starting to include a prayer for myself because I, too, am very afraid. It’s not that I fear losing her. It’s that I am afraid that I am doing this all wrong. I’ve never really been with someone at the end of their life. Or at the very least, I’ve never before looked down the narrow corridor of life and seen that death is so inevitable, so obvious, so close. I’ve never ushered anyone down that hallway. I don’t know if I am moving too quickly or too slowly.

I want guidance. I want someone to show me the pace.

A couple of weeks ago, I sought guidance from Hospice at the recommendation of the hospital doctor, but after an examination, the Hospice nurse concluded that whatever issue MIL was having with swallowing had been resolved. She wasn’t a candidate for Hospice, and although MIL’s general practitioner had not seen her in months, he agreed with the nurse. This was NOT late stage dementia. This was not a failure to thrive.

I called the Department of Aging and Disability. They, too, sent a nurse to visit. She made some recommendations and assured me that I was doing everything right. Why couldn’t that sweet lady camp out at my house to offer that encouragement every time I think I need it? Like today, maybe?

MIL has eaten very little over the past few days. She’s drank even less. Today, I spoon-fed her apple sauce. She chewed it. Yes, she chewed the apple sauce—each spoonful took about a minute to chew and then swallow. After a couple of bites, she pushed my hand away and refused to open her mouth. She took two swigs of water and two swigs of juice. That’s all she has eaten today. I put her down for a nap because she seemed tired and I didn’t know what else to do with her or for her.

Oddly enough, I’m not afraid to walk into her bedroom and find her dead. I am, however, very afraid that I will do something wrong between now and when she does die.

I think it is time to call Hospice again. It’s time to ask for another evaluation, but first, I know I need MIL to see her own general practitioner in person. If he can witness her issues with eating and drinking, perhaps he will call it “late stage dementia” and her chances of getting into Hospice will improve.  Doesn’t that sound like a horrible diagnosis? Yet, I want it so badly because I need the guidance—for both of us.




3 thoughts on “Two Ballsy Chicks Facing Death and Needing Guidance

  1. Auntysocial

    My advice is to take it upon yourself to do all the shouting, bawling and creating via her doctor, the Hospice and other medical / nursing professionals to get your MIL the right type and level of care she needs and don’t for one minute worry about how that might make you appear in the eyes of others.

    I’ve spent many years working with the elderly and terminally ill and can assure you, death itself is quite a peaceful and beautiful thing provided the right care and support is in place beforehand. What your MIL needs is to be as pain-free and comfortable as possible regardless of whether she’s hit “late stage dementia” because that’s neither here nor there. If she’s struggling to eat and drink or experiencing pain, discomfort or anxiety and distress etc, she needs whatever care and support is necessary, as do you.

    In terms of being there emotionally, the only advice I can offer and have ever offered people whose love ones are in the final stages of life is to listen to what they say and never try fobbing them off with false hopes or flippant remarks about how they’re going to be fine etc.
    The dying know they are dying and you’d be surprised at how comfortable and at peace they can be with it once they know the direction in which things are headed. It’s also important for you to be that open and honest with yourself and your MIL.

    You’re welcome to drop me a line anytime but I promise you, you’re doing everything right and your MIL is one lucky woman to have someone like you on her side. 🙂

    1. peanutbutteronrye Post author

      Thank you for the encouragement and taking the time to read my blog and offer advice–I so appreciate it. I don’t know that any shouting or crying on my part is really necessary. Over and over again, I hear that she IS getting the absolute best care because as uncertain as I sometimes feel about all this, we are apparently doing things right. The tricky part about getting her the “late stage dementia” diagnosis needed for Hospice is that her condition fluctuates. For example, when I wrote this piece earlier today, she had no interest in eating. Once my husband came home from work, she downed two bowls of soup, a mashed banana, and a cup of ginger tea. So, maybe she eats tomorrow and maybe she doesn’t? Either way, I think the key is to make an appointment with her doctor, discuss how her behavior is in general–regardless of how it might be that particular day–and get him to sign off on the “late stage dementia” diagnosis.

      I’ve been reading about dementia and I think that she was probably at stage 3 before her accident, but is now oscillating between 6 and 7 and we are only now waking up to dementia as a diagnosis because for so long, we have been stuck on this idea that her condition was caused by the head injury and not the inevitable progression of an age-related disease. I think this is probably true of her GP, too.

      You are so very right about not sugar-coating anything or offering false hope for a recovery. On a spiritual level, I believe MIL is with us versus other family members because I am willing to talk about death with her. A few months ago, I asked her point-blank, “Are you afraid to die?” and when she said “Yes,” we talked about it. That may be the only meaningful conversation she and I have ever had. Since then, when she has been ill or frightened, I’ve taken her hand and prayed about it aloud asking that she not be afraid when it is her time to die. And really, that calms her down.

  2. Auntysocial

    I’ve followed your blog to keep up to speed with what’s happening but take care and keep going. Like I said, you’re doing EVERYTHING right. 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s