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Posts Tagged ‘losing a parent’

It’s funny for me to hear people talk about being bored. I don’t think I’ve been bored since some time in the 1990’s. It seems to me that there are always worthwhile things that need to be done, and for us that has included caring for my mother-in-law (Marilyn Messer). It all began about 14 years ago, after my wife delivered a set of twins, before our other two kids had celebrated their 1st & 7th birthdays respectively. With four kids (and three of them being less than a year old), we were in desperate need of another set of hands, and at that time in Marilyn’s life, she was in desperate need of an excuse to get out of bed in the morning. Even though she was only 59 yrs old, she was classified as disabled, and was battling severe depression and a myriad of serious health issues. Coming to live with us was a win-win situation for everyone, and for a number of years it stayed that way. Even so, while living in a house full of grandchildren bolstered her spirits, it didn’t do anything to slow the steady deterioration of her body.

From the beginning, emergency runs to the hospital were a common occurrence and in those times, my wife Anita and I had to divide and conquer. At first we thought about alternating who would go with mom and who would stay with the kids, but we quickly figured out that wasn’t the way to go. You see, Marilyn was pretty old school and there was a huge difference in how she dealt with me versus how she dealt with Anita. Because I was a man and not her child, she was prone to be more respectful and compliant with me; whereas she was often cantankerous and obstinate with her daughter. Very quickly, I became Marilyn’s official ambulance driver, and over the years, we spent countless hours and days together in emergency rooms and in hospital wings. I held her hand through more than a dozen heart attacks, triple by-pass surgery, mini-strokes and even a bout of cancer. I was the one who had to lay down the law when it was time to transition to assisted living and eventually to full time nursing care. And even then, we’d frequently have our late night rendezvous’ at the medical center. Though those times were never pleasant for me, and almost always awful for her, we managed to form a very special bond that very few “in-laws” ever experience. I tried to make her laugh when I could, and we prayed a lot. We came to death’s door on several occasions, but Marilyn was built to last and she could rebound like no one I’ve ever known. The sad thing was that she never really got better, she’d just come to some new normal that was even worse than before.

In recent years the whole infrastructure of her body was collapsing. Her heart and kidneys were barely functioning, the blood flow to her brain was severely constricted by clogged arteries, she was legally blind and unable to walk. The highlight of her week was always Sunday, when we’d come load her in the van, and take her to church and then for something to eat. It wasn’t much, but it gave her something to look forward to. We’d actually experienced a pretty good stretch over the last year and a half, but during the holidays things began to unravel. Since Christmas, she’d been in the hospital at least four times and each time there was little they could do. Limiting her fluids helped with her congestive heart failure, but caused her to be severely dehydrated and prone to infection. Dealing with the infection and dehydration normally triggered her heart. With her fluid intake limited to 1000 cc a day, she was miserable and begging for something to drink. It was clear to me in that moment that our options were pretty much limited to letting her die in a desert of thirst or to drown in a tub of infected water. After making sure that she understood the consequences of the change, we requested that they raise her limit back up 1500 cc and made the momentous decision to not send her back to the hospital. Anything that needed to be done for her could be accomplished by the staff at her facility and Medicare (or Medicaid) was threatening not to hold a bed for her there any longer. Over the years, that place had become home for her and the staff had become like family. It seemed like that was the place to make our final stand.

Like so many other times in life, we prayed and tried to make the best decision we could; not really knowing what to expect. A few days later, my wife called to tell me that our oldest daughter’s water had broken and that her baby (our first grandchild) was going to come three weeks ahead of schedule. As I said a prayer for the little one’s safety, the Lord impressed upon me that the baby needed to come early if Marilyn was going to get to see him. Our daughter Katelyn was Marilyn’s first grandchild and now her son Jayden was going to be Marilyn’s first great-grandchild. I decided not to share my insight with anyone, and for the next several days we got caught up in the magical world of a new baby. Within a few days of getting momma and baby settled back in at home, the phone rang in the middle of night and it was Marilyn pleading for help. With the nursing home only minutes from our house, I was able to get there quickly, but there was little I could do. The fluid around her heart was crushing the life out of her. I spent the next couple of hours trying to comfort her by talking, praying and rubbing her shoulders. Eventually, she slipped into a fitful sleep, with her chest heaving for more air.

After a couple hours of sleep, I got the kids off to school and then Anita and I headed back to the nursing home. There we found Marilyn in the same miserable physical condition, but sitting with our Pastor. We hadn’t called him, but he felt nudged to go there that morning and we all prayed together. I requested that they begin to give her something to help calm her and they also prescribed something to help ease her breathing. We all knew that these things wouldn’t help her get better, but at this point we were simply fighting for whatever quality she might have left. That afternoon, Katelyn and baby Jayden came for a visit, and we were able to have that moment where she held her great-grandson. It was brief and she was groggy, but it was still priceless. At the same time, and at the request of the doctor, my wife was signing the papers to allow Hospice to take over her care. Very shortly thereafter, they began to administer morphine to make her comfortable.

Anita and I didn’t really discuss it, but for the first time in a long time, she stayed with Mom, and I took care of the kids. Marilyn’s older sister Judy came and together they kept vigil through the night. Slowly, Marilyn’s breathing became less labored and for the first time in a long time, she seemed to be resting peacefully. For anyone who loved her, it was a beautiful sight. At about 6:20 the next morning (02/15/2014), she quietly slipped into the next life. I couldn’t help but be grateful because she was finally at peace. No one knew better than I what it took to get there. I was also grateful that Anita (her oldest child) and Judy (her oldest sibling), were there to share the moment. With just a week between Jayden’s birth and Marilyn’s death, it struck me that those moments are not as different as we might think. Both seem to take place at an intersection between two worlds. With all my heart I believe that Marilyn is now in a better place, and that she’s free of the dead body that was so completely worn out by the end of her journey. I won’t miss the trips to the hospital, but I will miss the special bond that we shared. Rest in peace my dear friend – you are free at last!

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