No one should die alone…Death is not a solo act.

No one should die alone…Death is not a solo act.

Trigger Warning, includes death

Seriously, this is one of the most difficult blog posts I have written. I have been thinking of it for some time and just have not been able to bring myself to actually articulate the words, let alone type them. However, this pandemic is seriously making me face some tough truths, none of which are exactly comfortable to acknowledge, especially when it comes to death.

I  imagine the majority of you are being hit hard in at least one area of your life right now. Whether it be financially, physically, or within a relationship, none of us could ever have prepared for what our world would look like at this very moment. I can’t imagine any of us would have predicted this reality when the world shut down in March of 2020.

Impending Death

There are times when death sneaks up on us without warning. That was the case with my brother a few years back. Honestly, out of all of the people in my life, I truly thought he would be the one to outlive us all. He didn’t. Ironically, he had made plans ago meet us that next week. No one could have predicted his untimely and unexpected passing.

Other times you have warning. For instance, we knew my mom was ill, we just didn’t realize exactly how far she had declined. The last day we talked, I received a call a short time later, saying she was declining and she wanted me to make a decision about her being vented. I was so taken aback, after all, I had just chatted with her a few hours before. To this day, I remember hearing her in the background and begging me to help her make this decision.

So I asked if she was ready. She was changing her original decision of not prolonging her life (which is not uncommon). Than I asked who her Power of Attorney was (POA) and was told it was me.

Well fuck…

Keep in mind, this conversation as taking place in front of my boys’ school, as I picked them up for the day. I briefly remember asking one of my friends to take the boys until I completed the phone call. After all, illness doesn’t occur when it’s a convenient time.

She went on the vent

I knew from the moment she went on the vent that she would not come back to us. She was depressed, she was lonely and her body was failing. As her POA, I received countless updates and had unlimited decisions to make on her behalf throughout the next three days.

None of it was easy.

The only thing that was keeping her alive were medical interventions. I arrived three days later and on the drive, I received a panicked phone call from family, telling me she was declining fast. Consequently, I was unsure if I would reach the hospital before she passed away. With the help of my sister in law and my dad, I  arrived at the hospital and incidentally, I had totally forgotten how to get there, even though that was my hometown.

Those last moments

It isn’t a secret that my mom and I had an adversarial relationship, but she was my mom. She gave birth to me. She fought her demons, but don’t we all? I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived, but for hours, my aunt, uncle and cousin and I sat around and told silly stories, which I am sure my mom listened to. While it was a shitty time to visit, we actually had a few laughs.

Then they all left and it was just me and mom. I pulled up a chair and sat by her bed and as the minutes ticked by, I watched her heart rate become sporadic. Her heart rate would dip and skip beats, before getting back into a rhythm. I watched her hands and feet turn dark. As medical personal stopped in to check on both of us, I sat in awe of her body shutting down.

I held her hand and played music that I haven’t listened to in year, cracking bad jokes because that’s what I do when I am uncomfortable. Of note, other than being with my pets when it was their time, I had never witnessed another living being shut down. It was painful. It was emotional, and it was so final.

A decision needed to be made

The next morning, I felt compelled to make a decision  I did NOT want to make. However, watching her struggle was unfair and Modern Medicineshe had declared me as her decision maker. When I talked to the nurse, she knew enough about impending death that she told me it would be soon; as mom was already fading away from us.

I made the calls and together with my aunt, cousin and family friend, we gave her permission to go. And as her heart rate faded away, we said our final goodbyes. There were so many mixed emotions at that time because while we knew it was in her best interest, it was so incredibly final.

Covid 19

My mom’s passing never quite goes away. Being with someone as they pass is both a privilege and a curse as it is beautiful and painful. My consciousness understand that she is no longer in pain and she is reunited with loved ones who were already gone, but my heart still holds on. It’s the what if’s that are haunting.

Covid 19 robs our current society of the ability to be with a loved one when that time comes. Our loved ones are forced to die alone, or with caretaker who are hidden behind protective gear. They don’t have someone there to guide them into the next life, nor can they hear the words of their family and friends, telling them it is ok to go.

Covid 19 is a cruel their who is robbing us of what makes us humans…the ability to touch, to psychically connect and to provide comfort when it is most needed. My heart is breaking for the patients who have or will succumb and the staff members who do their best to accommodate their needs.

For once, I have no advice or motivational words. This just fuckin sucks.Take care of you, my friend.

 

 

Seniors, suicide and a sense of hopelessness

Seniors, suicide and a sense of hopelessness

Seniors and suicide

According to the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy, “seniors make up 12% of our population but are 18% of all suicide deaths”. This study was created pre-covid. And while the statistics are yet to be available, I would expect these numbers will rise drastically as our oldest community members continue to live in isolation.

In the state of Nebraska, suicide is the 7th leading cause of death for ages 55-64 and the 18th leading cause of death for those over 65 (Suicide Facts and Figures, Nebraska 2020). Additionally, Census.gov reports that 14% of Nebraska residents are seniors and 30% of them are living alone. That leaves a high percentage of that 70% residing in long term care or assisted living facilities. And due to Covid 19, the majority of those facilities are on lockdown.

What Lockdown Looks like

If you have ever been to a senior community, you know that community is the key word. We expect a sense of community, interaction and activity. Now due to Covid 19,  you are often met with a stifling silence. The new normal upon entering a facility is:

  1. Document on a questionnaire your current symptoms.
  2. Take your temperature and record it.
  3. Don a mask.

And this is just for those who are able to enter. Since March of 2020, essential workers are the only people who are permitted into these facilities.

Staff suffers too

I’ll be honest as my heart hurts for the administrators and staff. They are in these positions out of true love and respect for the people they work. They are taking this personally and are going above and beyond to be more on on the floor and interacting with the residents.

However, that doesn’t take the place of family visitation. In many cases, our seniors are quarantined in their rooms, looking at the same four walls daily. Visitation with family is done through a window, each placing their hands on the respective side while hiding the tears that are forming. Phone calls have taken the place of physically hearing a loved one’s voice. And hugs are no longer allowed.

During quarantine communal meals have been deemed unsafe, so they  miss their dinner companions. There are no more Bingo tournaments or community sing alongs. They can’t meet a friend and work on a puzzle together, nor can they do group crafts. The lack of connecting with others can lead a normally “emotionally healthy” person into situational depression.

What Depression Looks like

Depression looks differently in an aging loved one. As many of our seniors also suffer from memory loss and/or dementia, they truly have no understanding of their current situation. This creates additional stressors on both the individual resident and the staff.

A person who once enjoyed activities may now show no interest in t hose activities. They may refuse to color, put together a puzzle or or even participate in physical therapy. Their appetite begins to decline and there is little interest in a favored dessert. A once smiling person may become tearful and express a loss of hope and/or a desire to not go on.

While they may not have a plan to end their life, their overall hopelessness has taken over any shred of their current situation changing. As the time slips by, so does their physical and emotional strength. They present as angry, withdrawn, and are failing to thrive.

What you can do

Realize the effect that Covid 19 is having on this lost population.

  • Recognize a change in bevior in a loved one and report it to their respective caregivers. Don’t minimize the overall impact of this pandemic.
  • Be honest when talking with your family member and acknowledge how hard this is. Often we try to protect or fragile family members and they may misinterpret your apathy as a disregard for their situation.
  • Make an effort to communicate. Make the call, send the letter or the text. Let them know you are thinking of them.
  • Send them a care package of their favorite items. Many who are used to doing their own shopping are now unable to do so and are missing having the things they love around them.
  • Send notes, cards and drawing to a local facility and let them know the outside world cares.

Recognize that your loved one is grieving. They are grieving the life they once lived. Yes, it is hard to be around them when they are feeling so hopeless. This is about providing hope in an unprecedented time to someone who desperately needs a thread of hope to cling to. And for the unknown future, this is our new normal.

Thoughts? Share with us your experiences with this situation. Email me at:cindijjeffrey@gmail.com.