When the End is Near

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may-2005-100    I could not believe the feeling of relief that flooded me after I hung up the phone.  That was the first time I realized how great a load of stress I’d felt about my mother-in-law and how responsible I had felt to take care of her needs.  I had noticed the last two days during my visits that she was being given some liquids which she was not supposed to have.  I had talked to the nurses about that and was supposed to attend a meeting with the social worker the afternoon of the phone call. 

      I’m not normally a confrontive person, but I am able to confront when it is important.  Still, it takes a fair amount of energy to build up my courage to do so.  All morning I’d been rehearsing what to say.  Then my husband called to tell me that the speech therapist had called to appologize about the incorrect foods and also to tell him she did not think that Nicole’s refusal to eat was a physical or behavioral issue.  She is not eating because her body is not able to take in food.  It was time for hospice care.

   We had gone through hospice care with Nicole’s husband, Michael.  The nurses were wonderful and supportive.  I’d read a lot about hospice and discovered that often people are not referred early enough to get as much help as is available.  Michael was in hospice for seven months, which was just about right.  He died very peacefully, with no pain.  He knew he was cared for and cared about by the hospice workers and nurses as well as the nursing home staff and the family.

    I was able to go to the meeting in peace.  I did tell my concerns to the social worker and was able to check the charts again.  The orders for foods had been corrected and I later saw the right foods in Nicole’s room.  That was a relief.  What was even more helpful was to find out that the hospice nurse for Michael was now working full-time at this nursing home and would be taking over Nicole’s care.  In fact, she had been checking on Nicole since Michael died.  I felt so re-assured to know that Leah would be caring for Nicole.  I was able to tell her a few things about what Nicole especially likes–ice cream and chocolate, for instance.  Later, I put a note on the T.V. asking them to play Nicole’s favorite DVDs (Mash and Hart to Hart–we bought a pirated version for her because it was the only one we could find and she loves it so much).

   There is so little that the person with advanced Alzheimer’s can understand and appreciate.   There is so little you can do to make things “better.”  Still, in attempting to show love through small details, I hope I can live out a sacred day, a day dedicated to knowing God and living in him and through him.  Lately, I’ve taken to stroking Nicole’s arm and kissing her forehead.   It feels strange since she was not a person who was much given to physical affection, but I feel her need for loving human touch.  So, perhaps in spite of myself, I reach out to her, hoping she will know she is not alone as the end draws near.

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