I enjoyed the last days of having my mother-in-law living with me. Recently, I looked through the photos of her last days. The mischievous smile; the feisty comebacks; the pregnant, thought-provoking moments of silence in discussions; and the stories of her childhood and college years filled our days.
The ER staff and doctors sent her home to die on several occasions. After one of those visits, she queried me about the directive received from the discharge doctor. When I told her that the message was that she was going to die in a couple of weeks, she responded that that the man did not know what he was talking about. God would determine when she died.
It was interesting to observe her over the course of the next weeks. She was more independent, walking more, taking care of herself, and following through with the physical therapy. She actually lived longer than the medical personnel thought she would.
During the final week I was no longer able to care for her. Strength ebbed away. Life slipped away. She ceased to breathe. I touched her arm and realized what the Scripture meant by saying “life is in the blood.” The warmth and response of her touch dissipated quickly. Her skin cooled. I began to grieve.
I could hardly believe that death was so sudden. In reality, the process was not sudden. I recognized the signs of death but would not allow myself to accept them. I guess I believed that somehow this time things would be different. As I stood at the bedside, my mind flooded with scriptures on death and dying. I remembered my first conversation with my mother-in-law as I sat at her kitchen table. She talked to me about seasons of life, marriage, death, and dying, and life after recent loss of her husband of 39 years.
My mind still reels in disbelief some days, especially every Tuesday. She always visited me on Tuesday. Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners were not the same without her that year. Despite our festive mood, the “the elephant in the room” that we could not speak of was finally addressed when someone used levity to break the silence. We shared stories, told her jokes, laughed, cried, and rejoiced.
I’m a work-in-process. There are a lot of issues to work through. I was the primary caregiver. I alerted everyone that she died. I turned off the machines. “Fixed” her before everyone came into the room. I am processing my feelings of loss. Memories, wow! I have so many. I smile, I mist up, I laugh aloud, and I become pensive as I process her proverbs that I still don’t get putting life into perspective after the death of a loved is a process. Time is needed to process the loss.
Job’s comforters that tell you to “get on with life” should be ignored. Only you know the depth of your loss. There are five documented stages of death:
These stages or tools are similar to scaffolding that help understand and identify feelings. These stages are not linear. Each person moves with fluidity at their pace. Here are a few resources:
- Journey’s End: Active Dying
- The Five Stages of Grief
- On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss
- Questions and Answers on Death and Dying: A Companion Volume to on Death and Dying Touchstone Edition