Surrounded by Death

Yet Life Goes On…

GrimReaper000I spoke to my mom on the way home from work yesterday and she was in a panic. She was sure my stepfather, Al, was dying. I call my mother every day during my drive home from work.  I have a 30 – 40 minute drive home each day and this is the perfect opportunity to spend time with my Mother that I normally wouldn’t get to spend.

Before anyone gets worked up about my using the cell phone while driving, I use my bluetooth.  It’s a hands free device that hangs from my ear.  It requires no dialing and no looking at my phone. I think it’s even safer than talking to a passenger in the car because I don’t have to fight the urge to look at the person sitting next to me as I talk to them and drive…

Heather and her Pop-pop from last week.
Heather and her Pop-pop from last week.

Anyway, she sounded awful.  Al is 93 1/2 years old. He’s slowly fading away.  After his last stroke, he is entirely bed ridden. He doesn’t even have the strength to stand.  The stroke affected his right side, he can no longer talk (he can mumble a little and nod), and he has difficulty swallowing.  His eyes are glassy and barely open, he sleeps all the time, and he can only have liquids.  And the liquids must be thickened to avoid getting them in his lungs.

Determined to care for him at home, my mom has a nurse who comes for two hours in the morning, Monday through Friday.  The nurse washes Al, changes his diaper, and feeds him. My mother takes care of him the rest of the day and all weekend long.  She’s an energetic woman, but at 73 this is wearing on her. She can’t move him by herself.  She talks to him constantly and he’s barely able to respond.  She feeds him and half the time he chokes on whatever he’s eating.

My mother and I a few years back
My mother and I a few years back

It’s lonely and depressing. She is watching this strong, independent man with whom she loves and has been married to for 33 years slowly shrivel away to nothing.  And there’s not much she can do but keep him company and feed him. She cuddles him and sings to him. She tells him the news and what she is doing during the day.  She comments on the TV that I do not believe he can even see anyway.  But she keeps it on because he probably can hear it.

And so, it was Monday and I called her like I always do at 5:00.  She sounded sad and panicked.  She was certain Al was dying.  She was upset that she did not hear from us all weekend and kept repeating that she was all alone and nobody was checking in on her.  (She was fine on Friday when I told her I’d be spending the whole weekend helping friends move into their new home.)

She had called the nurse to come and see if Al was indeed dying and was waiting for the nurse to show.   She didn’t want to talk so I said good-bye and immediately called Heather.  Heather was in the process of making dinner so when I finally got home, we woofed it down and headed to my Mom’s house.  We got there a few minutes after the nurse and my sister had left.

She was very happy to see us. We immediately went into the bedroom to see Al, who looked the same as last week.  My mom tried to get his attention and he slowly opened his eyes.  “Heather’s here,” she exclaimed as she put Heather’s hand in her pop-pop’s hand.  He cocked his head slightly and then his whole face lit up–eyes wide and mouth open. He squeezed her hand.

So, Al is not yet dying. My mother panicked. In her loneliness, sadness, and frustration, she needed us there. She needed us to pick up her spirit. She needed us to boost up Al’s as well.  She needed us to remember that she needed us.  As we left, we knew that someday, probably very soon, it won’t be a false alarm. But until then, we need to be there for my mother.

My buddy James & his partner Kenn
My buddy James & his partner Kenn

It seems that death has been hovering around for quite some time. My friend James’ mother passed away over the weekend after a long illness. Her memorial is tomorrow night. She was in her 80’s.  A co-worker, who I’ve worked with for 23 years, passed away a week and a half ago.  He went outside because he heard a noise in the trash cans and wanted to check it out. Ten minutes later his wife found him face down on the lawn dead from a heart attack. He was 56.  Another co-worker’s daughter was killed in a car accident on the fourth of July weekend. She was 19 and had just finished her first year of college.

Death comes in many forms, sometimes cloaked and sometimes out in the open. It can come quickly without any forewarning or take its time, lingering and dragging its feet.  It can come softly, without a sound or loud and violently. It can stay away for years and then come at you rapid fire, leaving your head spinning.  But rest assure, no matter what,  it comes.  It always comes.


13 thoughts on “Surrounded by Death

  1. Marti says:

    I hear you, I hear you. 3 weeks ago a close friend(51) died suddenly of a heart attack. It was unexpected and unfair.Debating the unfairness of it has made my friends and I a bit bitter, I’m afraid. For us the living, though, it is a chance to re-think our lives a bit and challenge ourselves to cherish each moment and live just a little bit better….replacing the “bitter” with “better”, if you will. Thanks for sharing, your Mom sounds like a neat person with an enormous amount of love to give. Al is blessed to have her.

  2. Jeff Wagner says:

    Preston…I enjoyed reading your blog this evening. I can relate to your very sensitive and touching words. I will keep Al and your mom in my thoughts and prayers

  3. honey bestic says:

    So sorry to hear this, Preston. We just lost my stepdad to cancer in March. He and mom had only been married for 2.5 years, but they packed soooo much into that short period of time.

    He was 93. Mom is 76. Mom did a short stint of caring for him at home, but it was so overwhelming. Bless your mom’s heart for what she’s accomplishing. Please send her my love, even though she doesn’t know me. She and your stepdad will be in my thoughts

  4. Kim Everett says:

    Preston,I am so sorry and I will keep you and your family in my prayers. It is so sad to watch our loved ones in their last stages of life. It is also very challenging both physically and mentally to care for them. Your mother sounds like an awesome woman! I also think she is very blessed to have you!

  5. Death is so hard to deal with. I am sure no matter how much your mom prepares herself for that time when he does pass, it is still going to be so hard for her.
    I will keep all of you in my prayers.

    jill 🙂

  6. Oh Preston…I cried throughout this entire post. Your words about your Mom & Al just brought back so many memories of my dad lying in the hospital almost 3 years ago. I remember my dad not responding to anyone and then I walked in the room, touched his foot and said, Hi Dad I’m here…he opened his eyes wide and his mouth opened then he smiled….pissed my brothers and sisters off that they didn’t get that reaction! (I was daddy’s favorite!)

    It’s going on 17 years since my brother Herb passed and just 16 years last month when his partner died (on Herbs birthday)I still miss them both dearly.

    It seems like your mom just needed you & Heather to assure her and comfort her as well as Al…..your mom is a strong, brave woman!!

    You will all be in my prayers!

  7. I am so sorry about your stepdad. It’s really hard when we see our parents so sick. I just heard how the government wants to send a person to talk to us Seniors every 5 years after 55 to see how we want to die. Now that’s something to make your day, huh? I am afraid I will have to tell them where to put their counseling.

  8. I’m so sorry. I am glad you are close enough to help your mom. I went through the same thing with my mom and stepdad when he was dying last year. The caregiver feels so helpless and alone. It makes such a difference to have loved ones there for support.

    I’ll say a little prayer for all of you!

  9. Kim Z says:

    It sure has been tough here with all the deaths and everything going on. I hope that peace touches each of the family and is with you and yours Preston during this time. Please keep us posted on Al…

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