I have not been able to post these last few weeks because of events related to the final days in the life of a relative. The experience tested beliefs and philosophy as I lived through those days with family, experiencing the ebbing of a life and witnessing the rites associated with death. This was not an immediate relative, nor a blood relation, but a relation through marriage. Nevertheless, this family and this individual are dear to me. They are all under my dome of heaven. The experiences of the last two weeks led me to look closely at what happens when the equilibrium of life is disrupted by the very human condition of the death.
This individual is not the first close to me to pass away over the years, just the first that I have witnessed the passing of. Parents, grandparents, uncles and cousins are all among the deceased of my close relatives. I may have seen them shortly prior to their demise or attended their funeral rites, but I have never been witness to the final days in the process of dying. My relative (by marriage only), who I shall refer to as B, suffered a recurrence of a cancer that had been fought and supressed for thirteen years. A year ago, it reared its pernicious head in metastatic form affecting the brain and eventually many other tissues. When we were appraised of the fact that B was terminal and entering a hospice, it was time to go and be with our family members and with B.
We arrived at the hospice several days after all nutrition and fluids had been stopped. B was not on life support, but was on a regime of pain suppression (morphine) and antihistaminic to prevent fluid build up. The only other attention he received was to be turned regularly to prevent bed sores and to sponge bath him. When we entered the hospice suite, most of B’s immediate family was present, but at the time he was resting and uncommunicative. B had come through a crisis a few days earlier but rebounded slightly. The scene was somber and at the same time not. It was at best an unexpected incongruence. To illustrate my sense of being off balance in the situation I shall describe the setting as best I can.
The suite was located in a pleasant, relatively modern low rise building. The hallways and rooms were very clean and comfortably set up for patient and family alike. The music playing in the corridors constantly was distressingly upbeat with occasional lyrics that seemed in conflict with the reality that lay behind the doors providing privacy for the families availing themselves of the hospice facility. B’s suite was spacious, perhaps 800 square feet or so. There was B’s hospital bed along the far side, a large flat screen TV and sitting/lounging area for the family, a washroom and lighting that was subdued at times. In one corner of the room near the TV was an ample supply of snacks for all. The TV was on constantly at a low volume with various sporting events in progress one after the other, including the final few games of the MLB World Series.
In some ways, the setting was very like the setting in B’s on home when everyone was there. B was an avid sports fan and actively promoted the participations of his sons in competitive sport, particularly soccer. There was always a lot of chatter and laughter when you were with B and so it was in his hospice suite, albeit at a more subdued level than normal. Of course, B appeared to be oblivious to all that was going on around him, or was he? Not only was B in a substantially weakened state, he was receiving morphine injections at regular intervals so it was difficult to assess his level of awareness most of the time. When I took B’s hand it was warm to the touch and familiar, but on that first evening, I am certain that he was not responsive to my grasp, but not certain that he was unaware of it. I spoke a few words but there was no sign of response at the time. I do not mind saying that it was difficult to utter words as I was greatly affected by the scenario in which I found myself that evening.
How did all this fit into my ideas about life, self, and a personal dome of heaven? How did I feel about the idea of a hospice as a last way station before death? Could I get comfortable with the idea of death? More reflections in the next post.
Until them . . . L