In my experience, end of life care, helping someone through the process of dying most often is wrought with emotions. Not only are we attempting to comfort the person who is dying, but at the same time we are attempting to comfort ourselves. Oh, and let’s not forget that we are expected to communicate with and comfort the extended collection of family and friends!
Far too long ago when my father was in the process of dying, a wise, caring, and experienced friend reminded me to remind my family members that Dad would need to be given permission to let go and die. She added that almost for sure he would delay needing what he needed to do until he felt comfortable that we would be okay in his absence. As the situation rolled out, I was away during the weekend that he returned to the hospital to die. Upon my return home, I checked in with the family to learn that he’d communicated with everyone in the immediate family except me, and that the nurses advised that he likely was waiting for me to show up.
When I arrived I was terribly upset that Dad no longer was capable of verbal communication, but I decided to sit at his side and talk about life as his only daughter, including both happy and challenging times. I laughed and cried, and assured him that we all would be just fine without him even though we would miss him heaps and bunches. And about an hour later my elder brother returned and I was ready to take my leave. If memory serves me well, it was a couple of hours later when I received a phone call from that same elder brother, to advise me of our father’s death. I recall saying to my friend that I sure was happy that I spent that truly amazing time with Dad before he let go and allowed himself to die.
Given my father was considerably older than my mother, and given he died relatively young, it would be some time before I was in a position, this time as co-caregiver with my younger brother, to give someone permission to let go. This time it was Mom’s doctor that would remind me of this extremely important piece of helping someone die. This wonderful doctor was a gerontology specialist and after tending to Mom following a mini-stroke, he took the time to take me aside and ask if I’d had a chance to talk with Mom about it being okay to leave this world to join her father and mother, her husband, and others important to her. As I had not done so in this detail, I set about spending a couple of hours talking about the past, and assuring her that although we love her being so close by, we would understand fully and completely if and when she was ready to take her leave of the world, including us. I assured her that with all the care she’d given us over the years we were capable of carrying on without her. While I was extremely tempted to add a bit of humour about me “hoping”, at least, that we would care for ourselves by now, I managed to refrain!
In Mom’s case, approximately 18 months or so passed before Mom died, but during that time, when I talked with Mom (given Mom’s dementia having rendered her incapable of verbal communication) about the old days and her taking her leave to return to Ontario to be with Dad and the others, she would study my face very carefully and then nod and smile, to a degree, letting me know that she understood my message. Then one day about three months after Mom attended my backyard wedding to Philippe, Mom completed her first course and decided that she was ready to join the crew back in Ontario in the cemetery of the church in the wildwood, and I felt relieved that I had had those conversations about being ready to go home, knowing that I had helped her feel free to choose her time to go home.
While enjoying my own trip down memory lane, I most certainly hope it helped you address the importance of freeing those for whom we care to continue on their own journeys, knowing that those they leave behind understand the importance of this piece of the process. In addition, I feel confident that my stories will be of help to you, and invite you to be in touch should you feel I can be of further help.
Yours in Caregiving,