Most days of the week, I am working with someone who is at the end of their life. They will be leaving this earth soon and my job is to make sure their physical needs are met and to do whatever I can to ensure they have a good passing. That they aren't afraid, in pain, that what they want to be happening...is. They are at a time where they get to call the shots. Its a time where if you don't fee like having company you can say, "no thank you, not today" and no one will think anything of it. (I wonder why we wait until one is dying to grant them the freedom to speak of their needs and wants without guilt....what if we gave that to each other during all of our living days? I suppose that is a post for another day.) I watch as they tie up loose ends in some of the most beautiful ways I could ever imagine. Reconciliations, forgiving, memories shared, funny stories, confirmation that "Yes, you mattered. You left your mark." I watch as some choose not to talk about or acknowledge what is happening....so I encourage the family to meet them where they are and to honor their choice, but to love them and touch them and say everything *they* would like to be heard.
What does it mean to die a good death? I want anyone who reads this to think about that. What would *your* good death look like? What would you fill those last weeks with?
My awareness of us having some sort of a choice about the way a passing can go probably originated with my mom's passing. If you have read here for a long time, you will remember those weeks that I cared for her. I wrote almost every day. She passed away on July 28, 2011. I had taken care of a lot of people as they were dying but never a family member. I was very conscious of my role as a support person and I was a quiet facilitator...following their lead, feeling that it wasn't my place to suggest or direct. I was there merely to serve during this time.
My mom was my mom though. She was also my first alcoholic...we had a lot of water under our bridge. She had lived with us on our property (which sounds a lot more grand than it actually is) for the past 6 years. She was 83 when she passed away from advanced kidney disease. Given the choice of dialysis or Hospice, she chose Hospice. So she spent the last 6 weeks of her life in her own little home, with her cat curled up on the foot of her bed, looking out the window at all of the trees surrounding her place. I took a leave from all of my clients and stayed home with her to care for her.
She ended up being hilarious most of the time. She had spent years on the "kidney diet" which meant no dairy products, low calcium, low salt, among other things.....the first thing she asked me to make for her on day 1 of her Hospice journey was a root beer float. She had one every day....sometimes changing it up to a strawberry milkshake. Or peaches on cottage cheese. Or Ben and Jerry's. "What difference does it make now?!" She wanted to "divvy up the jewelry" into little lunch bags with masking tape labels on them. She wondered how God felt about her, if they were good. She talked about the hardest part of leaving being that she would miss all of us. She wanted to see how things turned out for everyone. Lol Especially "my girl." They were kindred spirits, those two.
This was a woman who never owned her own home, who lived in rentals forever, who was certain she would end up in a rest home somewhere....and who we soon would discover had spent most of her adult years carrying so much guilt and regret for not living up to her own standards of who she had wanted to be....and now time was up. Oh how I wanted this resolved for her. So slowly, with the help of our Hospice social worker who was the most wonderful, gracious, gentle and kind woman, and my siblings....we began to walk her through those last weeks. Conveying love and acceptance, there were lots of amends made and forgiveness granted and received. I spent time just being present with her...she talked a lot about everything, a lot about her mom who was not a good mom to her at all. Who was broken and hurting and so mean in many of her own ways...but my momma, bless her heart was filled with grace and compassion for her. This woman who had hurt her so deeply in so many terrible ways and for so many years. Even on my mom's death bed she extended love and forgiveness and grace to this woman. It was a spiritual breaking free, really. The social worker and I sat on each side of her and held her hand while she sobbed out her stories. We listened and asked gentle questions, and just let her talk, and then it was done. She was done. My siblings began to call if they couldn't be there in person and say their parts, one wrote a letter, one came in person, all had come to a place of resolution with her.
A couple days later she was sitting up in her hospital bed and she said she felt like everything was ok now. "Everything is exactly the way its supposed to be right now." She was at peace, smiling, happy.
Facilitating this time with her remains one of the most powerful events of my life. When she finally did pass away nothing was left undone. I can't even convey to you what a gift that was. No regrets, our slates were clean with each other.
At her little graveside memorial my older brother spoke and said though her life had been filled with some false starts and turmoil at various times.....she died a good death. She loved each of us to the absolute best of her ability, and she died surrounded by safety and security and our love for her.