BEYOND STATISTICS – By Becki Hawkins
When They Do Not Go Softly Into the Night
I have had the honor of being with so many as they ‘transition’ to the other side. Many have been of the movie scenario quality with loved ones around the bed sharing stories, singing favorite songs, lovingly giving permission for their Mother/Father/child/spouse/dear one to go.
It doesn’t always happen that way. Sometimes that dear one is still mad, hateful in moments, blasting tired relatives and friends with cursing, and daring a minister to step inside.
One acquaintance called me one day. “What in the Sam hill am I supposed to do with Daddy? He is cussing at my siblings and my poor tired Mom and acts like he might fist fight with the nurses. This isn’t him. Will he stay mad until the end? Because if you think he will, I’m outta here! And I’m taking Mama with me!”
When I do an assessment of ‘the big picture’ there are hints along the way for this behavior. Sometimes it has to do with a change in brain chemistry due to metastatic disease, drugs to help with pain or anxiety, or they are just plain angry. Why? Especially with men I’ve heard them tell me they don’t like losing their independence. They do not always do well with someone strange entering their private home and suggesting they consider a hospital bed or cutting back on their salt intake, or trying to give their pain medication the consideration of routine dosing around the clock to keep the blood level even to avoid playing ‘catch up’ if doses are missed. It comes down to thinking they have lost control of their lives, their independence. Who are they going to yell at? Often it’s the ones closest to them: spouse, child, parent, partner, doctor, nurse, dog…..
When the weary family members try to take it all in stride along with their physical stress, prepatory grieving process, lack of sleep, they are tempted to walk out the front door and not return. It is tempting!!
Loss of a loved one is hard enough when everyone is supporting one another and the patient is comfortable, at peace with the process, and tenderly expressing thanks for each one there.
But the reality of life is there are times when we call in the Hospice team and say, “Can you help me out here? Can you look with fresh eyes at this and point me to where and how I sit with this anger and not take it personally? Do you have a volunteer that can objectively sit here while I walk around the block or drive a few miles out to a park?”
And that is a great idea! Move away from the scene for a while if at all possible. Breathe and then remind yourself you may not be able to ‘make it all ok’ no matter what you say or do. It is what it is. Sit with your grief, your heartache, your sadness and honor those feelings. Then give yourself permission to return with full understanding Mom might move into a different space before this is all done and wrap her arms around you. Or Mom may go into a coma and you will sit in peace and quiet a few hours or a few days before her vital organs stop. Or Mom could very well be angry to the bitter end.
These are questions in many hearts of patients that often aren’t voiced. “Can you sit with me in my pain? In my anger? In my fear?”
“Will you see past my outburst? Will you forgive me? Will you still love me?”
One sibling pulled me into an empty living room while his Dad was ranting and raving. His sister refused to leave Dad alone. She ignored his ‘spells’ and would hum or do needlepoint or rock in the padded bedside rocker seemingly untouched.
Paul was wringing his hands, “I can’t sit in there. Does that make me the ‘bad’ child? I don’t know what to say. I can’t ignore him when he is saying those horrible things. My sister acts like she can’t hear it. They are both making me nuts!”
Be honest with where you are. One sibling may stay in the kitchen fixing supper for everyone. One sibling may do outside yard work or care for livestock. One may work on financial and insurance papers. And one may sit at the bedside. No one is more worthy. All are worthy. Don’t judge where you are or where they are. Thank one another for whatever they are doing and don’t try to make them fit a mold they don’t fit into.
Unconditional love, genuine forgiveness, and respect go a long ways. Talk to your priests, your ministers, your grief group, your best friend or write about it. No one escapes this. One day it will be us.