I confess...it's been a long few days. I try not to talk too much about "other people's stuff" here and to focus on my own story and my own thoughts. I may be okay to live openly in the e-universe, but I can't presume others are as well. This post will be a bit of an aberration. It may also be hard to read.
We left Central PA on Friday when we got a call that MM's father was struggling. He has been ill for some time, beating one diagnostic estimate by many years. The past month, however, has been a downhill journey and this is our second visit in a very short period. He was home the first visit and had some home health help, but required overnight care from a relative. Towards the end of that stay, after some long nights for MM on the other side of parental care, he was moved to the hospice wing of the hospital.
We came back out last Friday for MM to attend a family meeting with the hospice team. The care provided by the hospice team was amazing. They were kind and gentle to the patient and also very available for the family. They had a nicely stocked kitchen for families to use, either for themselves or to bring something in to the patient. It was definitely a danger zone for this Rambler with graham crackers, cookies, ice cream, and PB, but a lovely touch when you realize the long hours families may spend in the hospice care wing.
His voice has been quiet and raspy, usually difficult to hear, through the weekend. On Monday, it was suddenly clear. We'd been warned that there would be a fleeting moment of improvement before the final time, but it is tough to not see that moment and hope. On Tuesday, they called to report "a change in condition." MM's sisters were there early and we brought his mom around 1. He couldn't speak and his breath rattled. He tugged hard at his wife's hand. When the sisters left on an errand, his struggling got worse. They gave him medicine to relax. He got out the word "help" a few times, along with "I love you" to his family. He let us know he wanted to see the digital picture frame and MM held it for him. I wavered between being unobtrusive and helping, when others couldn't speak through the tears, to tell him it was okay to go and that soon the pain would be gone. As his breathing slowed, MM and his mom held his hand. I tried to hold them as best I could.
I won't detail the time that followed. Needless to say, it was hard. I stepped away a few times to give them privacy. A sister later said I needn't worry, that I was part of the family too (which made me teary again). I'd been trying to bring water since I knew they couldn't focus on self-care. A mention was made of ginger ale, a favorite of the father's that they suddenly craved. The family kitchen had run out of the mini-cans they'd had for days and a volunteer told MM, who'd gone looking, that they didn't have more. I offered MM a two-liter of Sierra Mist from the fridge, but he said specificity mattered. I ran off with my purse -- somehow relieved by having a task, a way to help just a small bit. I returned with four 20oz bottles from the cafeteria. They laughed at my packed-full paper bag as I told them I'd bought the place out. Okay, not quite true...I got one per person other than me...but it gave a moment of smiles and laughter which I think helped as much as the hydration. Later, I helped by offering what I view as one of my personal gifts, putting together words for the first draft of an obituary notice -- at once brief but also long enough to honor the passing.
Some other time, I'll talk about the complexity of feeling pain when in the presence of something much worse...that had characterized the earlier days and the prior visit. Right now, I'll say that I'd never before witnessed someone's last moments. It is an odd feeling. I tried to speak when others couldn't and assure him it was okay to rest. I knew he had a strong religious background so spoke to him of that and handed a prayer card to MM to read with his Mom. I told him he'd soon be free of the pain that he'd faced for a long time. I know he believed he would find a better place beyond this one, and that he hadn't wanted further efforts when the time came. We all tried to offer comfort, but I still saw a fear unlike any other.
Being in that room was hard, even when I knew it was harder for everyone else. In no way do I think my emotions were as important as the family's, but I'll admit I felt helpless. I wanted to help, but I simply couldn't. I wanted to make it better for MM and his family, but it wasn't a feeling I could fix. We (MM, his mom, 2 sisters, a minister for part of the time) talked for a few hours in the room, with moments of tears but also moments of smiles. That seemed right. I think a passing should be marked by sadness but also celebration of memories and of loved ones moving forward.
Beyond that, I also realized something else....being in that room, being present at the moment between here and "there", helps bring a measure of a comfort in a time of great fear. Perhaps more notably, being in the room, at that moment, is an honor.
I don't know what lies beyond this world. Still, I wish him peace, the knowledge that he was loved, and the comfort of knowing his family will mourn but will do so together. And also that they will be okay, they will survive and move on to live their lives with his memory inside them.