Friday, December 4, 2009

An answer

Oh, the waves they roll, and oh, the wind does blow...(if you can sing the rest of that song--and I'm not talking to you, Dump!--you're my age, and, chances are, you were in some kind of camping organization as a kid).  But that's not my point, and as is often the case, I've become distracted.  The wind and waves are growing around here, to tidal waves or hurricane heighths.  I don't mean the wind and waves outside our window: the air is still and cold, the bay smooth as glass this early December day.  But the wind of change is blowing through my family, my birth family this time.

This is a change I've been longing for in my heart, praying for in the shower.  Last night when I stood in the shower, I found myself saying, "Thank you, God, thank you, God!"  You see, yesterday when my in-my-hometown sister had her quarterly meeting at the care facility where my mother is barely eking out an existence that no one would actually call life. And when I say eke, I mean only chronological terms--she's stretched out her existence long past its time.  Anyway, RE met with the team of people who care for Mom on a daily basis.  These are people who see RE daily as well.  Though there are a host of people in care facilities across the world who have little or no visitors, Mom is more blessed than most.  She doesn't go a day without one. Every single day, someone who loves her stops by and tried to 'visit,'  RE told me the other day that she needs to start taking knitting or something, because sitting with Mom is like sitting with yourself--just as quiet, just as empty of human communication.

At this meeting, it was suggested that Mom be put on end of life 'comfort care.'  By this, they meant that they will no longer force her to eat, try to add carbs to any day she refuses to take a bite.  They will not try to make her exercise or even get out of bed if she doesn't want to.  Once an Alzheimer patient gets to the stage Mom is at, when she recognizes no one, doesn't know what food is, cannot communicate, this choice is offered the family.  Our family has already conferred about how we want the end to come--not when, but how: with dignity, or at least as much of it as is left to a person in Mom's place.  Other families are less ready to make this choice.  They want their loved one kept alive as long as possible.  The care-takers who talked with RE yesterday told her that such people can live up to five years.  Five more years of this?  Five more years of less and less and less of her?  What could possibly be left at the end of that time, when so little is left now?  Little, other than her still healthy body.

To me, this meeting, this decision was an answer to prayer.  For Mom.  More for her than for me.  I've written of this before, written of the fear and sadness in her eyes, the agony of being lost within her own body.  Yes, that fear also extends to death, but I'm sure that once she crosses over, to use one of the many euphemisms for death, all that fear will be wiped away! 

What I've long thought is that a hundred years ago, the end would have come more gently, with less medical intervention.  A woman in Mom's situation would have already been completely bedridden, and if she couldn't/wouldn't eat, couldn't speak, couldn't exercise, the family would sit with her, would  wash and care for her...in a comforting, quiet way.  Comfort care.  The exact comfort care proposed by the nursing home where Mom now lies in her bed, refusing to get up. 

I don't know how long this 'long goodbye,' as one famous daughter called it about her famous ex-president father, will last, but we now measure it in months, not years.  And even though I have other months to measure, other parents to give comfort care to, I am grateful this morning for this boon in my family's--my mother's life.  Amazing how something like this becomes God's answer to our heartfelt cries.  I'm awed at the way He works, really I am.

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