I wrote a post a while back about phone calls and what they can mean to a caregiver or anyone whose loved one is aging or in ill health. The subject phone call turned out to be a false alarm. Instead of blood, Mom was throwing up marinara sauce. I’ve had a couple of phone calls this week that weren’t THE phone call, but they weren’t false alarms either. All week words like we may be out of options and this is sometimes the beginning of the final episode have been haunting me.
For several months Mom has been suffering with some kind of skin eruptions. The initial diagnosis was shingles, but it’s now been changed to Bullous Pemphigoid (BP). Sounds like an episode of “House,” doesn’t it? BP is an auto-immune disease similar to Lupus except it affects only the skin instead of internal organs. The biggest problem is the itch, and like a child, Mom can’t keep from scratching, so she’s been in and out of the hospital fighting the infection the scratching causes. To complicate matters, her chronic urinary tract infection (UTI) has shown up again, and the treatments for the BP and the UTI are not always compatible. At 90 years old, her body can only tolerate so much, and the doctor has said a couple of times that if this doesn’t work, we may be out of options. Thankfully, so far it’s working. The UTI seems to be under control, and she’s had no new blisters in a couple of days.
But now we have another problem. As Alzheimer’s progresses, one of the things it affects is the ability to swallow. After noticing that Mom was wheezing a bit, the doctor ran more tests and discovered that she is aspirating her food. That’s a fancy way of saying her food goes down the wrong pipe. The aspiration has caused a small spot of pneumonia, so we’re facing another course of treatment that may or may not work and that she may or may not be able to tolerate. So far she’s alert, happy, and even more aware of who Jim is than normal, but who knows what tomorrow will bring. Jim calls and e-mails daily, and more often when there’s news, but I need to see her in person, love on her, hold her hand. So David and I are going to Arkansas Tuesday or Wednesday.
I hate what that implies, that if I don’t go now, she might not recognize me the next time, or she might suddenly take a turn for the worse and I might not get a chance to say good-bye. But as a caregiver, I’ve learned that denial doesn’t work. You have to face the fact that no matter how good a job you do, how much you pray, how many positive thoughts you have, your loved one will eventually die.
I’m not afraid of death, but I fear the process. As a conservative and sometimes fundamental Christian, I believe what Jesus, Paul, and others said about death and the life to come.
There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. John 14: 2-3
Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord. 2 Corinthians 5:8
In addition to the Bible, books have been written and movies have been made about encounters with the hereafter, near-death experiences, a white light, departed loved ones, feelings of love and acceptance. But the best stories are the ones friends tell about the death of their loved ones. These are the ones that really reinforce the belief that the best is yet to come.
My favorite is about a friend who had a long hard battle with cancer. As the end neared, he lapsed into a coma. Then one night he smiled without opening his eyes.
“It’s so beautiful. There are flowers everywhere,” he said. His smile widened even further, and he started waving as if in greeting. And then he died.
Another friend tells of her mother’s death. Just before she died, as she lay there with her family surrounding her, she smiled and said, “Yes, Lord. I hear you.”
I believe when Mom’s time comes, she’ll truly be home, in a better place where she will be well and happy. But I dread the process that will take her there. I hate that she has spent 3 of the last 5 or 6 weeks in the hospital. I hate that she has to eat pureed food and drink thickened water and that she has to endure needle stick after needle stick, even when her old, delicate veins collapse. But, as always, I’ll do what I can. I’ll visit, I’ll consult with Jim and the doctors, I’ll pray, and then I’ll leave her in the hands of the One who loves her more than I ever could.