Five days ago, the imminent death of a close relative weighed on me. That is to say, death did not bother me. What I perceived as suffering, however, devastated me. Though conscious, the patient could not articulate in an intelligible fashion. Any listener had to guess at her wishes. The ability to swallow vanished. She drifted between episodes of responsiveness and non-responsiveness. Very few of her movements seemed purposeful, although during periods of her responsiveness, she attempted to participate in her own cares. I knew what this woman had been like prior to her stroke — and now I witnessed her debilitation, so that she could not turn herself without the help of a nurse’s aid. No one knew what Death held, so that I did not tell her “good bye.” I told her I was leaving, and she waved good bye with her left foot. I slept most of the way during the ride back home. That night I prayed for her to die, hoping that Death would bring her peace.
A day later, I attempted to reach a hospice nurse. I wondered if the woman’s seemingly restless movements were indications of pain. After all, she had suffered bowel surgery three weeks earlier. If she was in pain, then perhaps a hospice nurse would load narcotics into her system, easing her path to Death. Medical personnel’s unwavering answer came to me. Because I was not assigned the power of attorney, they would not communicate with me. Whatever blood ties existed between the dying woman and myself made no difference.
During a telephone conversation, I broke. A woman who worked at a medical advocate agency heard my anguish and asked the Christian god to put his hand one me. The woman did not ask about my spiritual path, and I did not volunteer it. The wind had been ripped out of my sails, and I sat thoroughly defeated. That was enough for her to implore her Higher One to grace me with strength. A non-Christian being the recipient of a blessing from of a member of Christianity, a group not known for extending good wishes toward witches. How ironic!
That night I prayed to any god who would listen for the relative’s death. The relative herself had conveyed to my brother she no longer wished to live. Having been through the deaths of two relatives, my brother tried to comfort her and told her Death was at hand.
Through this period of anguish, I recalled I had volunteered to be a guide in an herbal garden on Sunday. I had no idea how I would keep it together long enough to answer any questions about herbs, which seemed insignificant in comparison to my own misery. I had given my word, however, and intended to keep it.
Perhaps braced by the woman’s Christian prayer, I felt well enough to leave the house on Saturday. I fluctuated between grief and rage. How dare the poa shut me out of the decision-making process. Had I been involved in the decisions, I never would have agreed to what struck me a pointless — and no doubt painful — surgery — surgery which spared the victim’s life by three week
Yesterday at 7 am, my brother called with the news of Death’s arrival. This was the end of suffering and helplessness. Though filled with sunshine, the day seemed dark with loneliness — a reminder that Life was cruel as much as capricious. I took my place in the herb garden, and felt my spirits return. No, they did not soar, but with its sights and smells, the garden reminded me of Life’s finite graciousness.
That evening, my sister’s phone call shocked me. Hadn’t she been the poa, and hadn’t she locked me out of the decision-making process — including the possibility of requesting pain meds for the dying woman? Why the Hell should she care how I was holding up? After telling me that no poa had been assigned, she inquired about my well-being, and told me that the relative had never suffered. While I decided this was not the time to argue, I could not swallow a blatant lie.
“If someone had her gut cut open, and she’s at the point where she can’t turn over or speak, then to me that’s suffering,” I said.
My sister grew quiet. Hopefully she accepted few and far between times did we agree. Rather than bring us together, this Death had driven us wider apart.
If I remember nothing else, may I remember the woman’s prayer — and the way we express our grief. The human spirit is to be appreciated, whether its because of its willingness to let go or its willingness to show compassion.