LAST week I wrote about how caregiving can shift from taking curative measures to preparing you and your ailing loved one for that final journey.
It is one of the most gut-wrenching experiences ever! For the first few years, you’re their champion and cheerleader to get them better, to beat that illness! Worries and woes be gone!
But sometimes, despite your best efforts, the illness wins. Even though you know that death is a certainty, you feel that you can cheat it, if only for a little while longer. Of course, you can only delay it by keeping well and healthy, but even then, there are no guarantees for a longer life.
It’s hardest when you lose someone suddenly. They are well one day and gone the next. It is one of the most devastating things that could happen to anyone.
Somehow, you have a bit more time with a loved one who is terminally ill. Theoretically, you have time to gain acceptance and prepare for the inevitable. At least that was how it was for me when I lost my parents just 18 months apart. They were critically ill for many months before they passed away.
Ironically, you are never ready for the onslaught of emotions that come with death. Even though you know what’s coming, and are prepared for it you’re never really ready when it actually happens.
In those two years, I also lost my brother’s wife, my sister’s husband and a very dear friend. Five deaths of loved ones in two consecutive years. I don’t how we coped but we did. The next two years were a blur. There was so much to do — settling all sorts of paperwork, and meetings with lawyers and officials to settle estate matters.
Grieving and mourning for my parents came only after all that was done, when I had to deal with their personal effects. As my siblings and I sat together sifting through their belongings, we started to recall those last months of their lives, of how much time we had spent at the hospital and later at home.
We also recollected intense moments and lighter ones. We laughed, cried and laughed again. We also spoke of happier times when we were children, what a great childhood we had had and how we were now the “elderly folk”.
We counted so many blessings that came our way. One was the fact that our parents’ doctors and nursing staff were professional and very kind in the way they had treated our parents and us, their caregivers. They gently guided us and prepared us for what was coming.
We learnt to comfort our loved ones and listen to what they had to say. Sometimes they didn’t want to talk, but they treasured our company even if it was to watch television together or just holding hands.
My parents liked to reminisce. They would talk about their past and even about their childhood. In hindsight, I believe that by doing that they gained some perspective on their lives and the process of dying.
In the last week of my father’s life, he asked me if he was dying. The first few times I told him that we could beat this together. He was going to get better. He didn’t seem convinced and I was relieved when he didn’t ask further. When one of his doctors walked by, I stopped him and chatted with him. What do I say? How should I respond? I didn’t know how to deal with this and I didn’t want to be the bearer of bad news.
The doctor told me that judging from the kind of person my father was, it might be good to tell him and speak from the heart. My father asked me the same question again the next day. I couldn’t speak. I just looked at him and nodded. He turned away, took a deep, trembling breath as tears and rolled down his cheeks.
He wiped his tears, held my hands and said: “Thank you. Please call everyone.”
As they all came in over the next few days, I found myself telling everyone not to unburden their troubles, guilt and sadness on dad. He needed their love and forgiveness, not their troubles.
One of the last things he said to us and to his doctors was not to resuscitate him. He knew his body was systematically shutting down. “Please let me go peacefully and with dignity. No life support,” he said. And we honoured that.
Three days later, dad breathed his last. For a moment we thought the machines were faulty. But it wasn’t. He just slipped quietly away, and the blips went from beeps to one long beep.
**The article above was brought to you by AmMetLife Insurance Bhd