Saturday, August 3, 2013

Things They Don't Tell You

Dear Tatum,

There are things they don't tell you about caring for someone who is dying. One of those things is the intense feeling of responsibility one may assume. Like the responsibility for them dying. If you're the one who signs them up for hospice, if you're the one who decides to stop their medication, the responsibility may seem like yours. Even when they are a part of the process, there and in agreement at every step, you understand their mental capacity is diminishing and they do not always understand, or when they do, remember. Even when you confer with the relatives and they agree, it feels like you're making the decision on your own. And then, when they start to feel ill, when their legs swell and you can hear their congestion and the fluid in their lungs, you wonder if you have made the best decision in taking them off all medications. You know there is something that can help but you feel it will only prolong the inevitable. You feel your goal is to help them die quickly (and you think by taking them off all medication this will happen), but you also want them to be comfortable. And so you relent. You give them the water pill and they feel better. There is relief, they can walk better and their strength returns for the time being. Whereas you thought they would be bed ridden within days, you begin to reconsider. You reassess your judgement of the nurse, whose demeanor you still don't like (too chatty with irrelevant stories, obviously trying to make a connection yet failing), but whose suggestion to continue the water pills as needed was probably a good one, even though it seemed (still seems) counterintuitive to you. You feel like someone's  life is in your hands, and it is. While you know they'll die no matter what you do, you are responsible for how it happens. You are torn between your desire to care for them as best you can (which typically means keeping them alive) and your desire for them to have a quick and comfortable death. You want them to live forever, you want them to die quickly. Your brain struggles with the dichotomy of simultaneously wanting both. This is constantly on your mind until you come to the realization that you are not, in fact, killing them. That you are giving them the best care they can get (even though an extra 50 pounds six inches would help) because it comes with love. That they are thankful and you are thankful.



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