Hospice During the Holidays

Hospice care is never easy.  You know this if you have had a loved one in hospice care.  It means the end is near.  So any time you are dealing with hospice care it is a stressful and emotional time in your life.  During the holiday season I believe even more so because of the stark contrast between the joyful festivities versus the dark reality of an imminent death.

For those of you who are not aware, my mother is currently in hospice care in a nursing home.  This past June she fell out of bed and broke her hip.  People always told me when the elderly broke a hip it was bad.  I'm pretty sure "bad' is not even the word that begins to describe this journey my sister and I have been on with our mother since then.  Following her initial surgery in June she has also had six more surgeries.  That's a lot for anybody but for an 89 years old it is unfathomable how she has even survived.  After the last surgery she was suffering so much from intense pain that we consulted with a palliative care physician and hospice.

I've had time to think these days; probably too much time to do so.  Because as I sit beside my mother's bedside, she unable to eat, drink or speak, I begin thinking of so many things.  How she loved the outdoors and spent almost every waking moment in her beautiful flower gardens.  How during the holidays she spent hours in the kitchen whipping up her traditional foods for the season.  How in her later years whenever she wasn't able to do these things you could find her in her rocking chair in front of the television watching every Hallmark Christmas movie ever made while eating the popcorn she often ate for her evening meal.  Our minds take us back to every nostalgic moment  we have stored in our memory banks.

As the holiday season is officially upon us now, one thing is clear; death has no respect for time.  It doesn't care what time of the year it is or the day or hour.  My sister and I visit our mother every day at least once.  She's usually completely non-responsive.  Sometimes she will open her eyes a bit and attempt to say something but words don't come out.  And I feel helpless, even distraught at times because I can clearly remember her telling us that she never wanted to be in this condition.  Her (and our) hopes were that God would take her quickly.  But He hasn't done that and I don't know why.  We've prayed,  as I'm sure she has,  for Him to show mercy and not allow her to linger in this condition.  But she has.  And I know that God has a plan for everything but I keep asking myself what it is.

As I said before, hospice is hard.  No, it's worse than a simple word like that; it's difficult to explain to anyone who has not experienced it first hand.  It's not just the daily visits where you have to see your loved one in the condition they are in but it is every waking (and often times sleeping) minute of the day.  You may for a moment be doing something and you're suddenly drawn back to what is really going on in your life right now.  You wake up in the morning and go to bed in the evening with the thought of your loved one's impending death on your mind.  You sleep with a phone beside your bed at night and during the day it is always in your hand because you are waiting; waiting for the phone to ring and say they have passed away.  And that makes you so anxious because you are so sad that they will possibly pass away alone.

As I sit in the chair beside my mother's bed I watch her breathe.  Because the nurses have told me about a dying patient's respiration and how it slows down to so many beats per minute.  This is information I want to know but also do not want to know.  It's while watching her breathe that I truly hope she dies while I am there.  While she knows I am there and can feel my hand on her arm and know that she is not alone.  I imagine her taking her last breath and wondering why we aren't there with her.  These things goes through your mind while sitting and watching someone breathe, waiting for their last breath.

I attempt to present myself as "normal" but these are not normal times.  I do not feel normal.  I feel as though I am in limbo with all of this waiting and yet times keeps moving along.  It's the week of Thanksgiving and I have already bought my turkeys and pulled my mother's dressing recipe out.  All of the children are planning to prepare their favorite dishes to bring and the grandchildren are out of school running around playing and excited for Christmas that will soon be here.  It is a combination of happy and sad for me.  I love the holiday season and everything about it.  The sights and smells and sounds. But how can I be happy with my mother dying?  I can't be happy.  But I can be joyful.  Joy is what lives inside you, it is not dependent on circumstances.  Because many times in our lives our circumstances are not happy ones.  And so during this season I will be sad while I wait,  but I will also be joyful because I know that , "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18."

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