Well, I am finally home. We went to a funeral the first part of March then my husband dropped me off at my mom's and he went on home and I stayed with her for a few weeks. It was so strange to be gone for so long. I can not believe how fast time flies when you are visiting.
My thoughts today are about the caregivers of those approaching their last days of life. My husband and I took care of his folks in their last days. It was a true blessing but at times difficult. I watched from afar as my mom took care of my step dad in his last days. Now my cousin is watching her husband prepare for his eternal journey.
I know there are a lot of people out there in this very situation...their loved ones are close to parting and they are the ones responsible for their care until that time. I wish to address my thoughts to you caretakers. I applaud you. It is the greatest service one can do to take care of someone that is ready to depart to the other side.
My mother-in-law made me promise that I would not take her to the hospital or Life Care in her last hours. I was a little nervous about making that promise as I had no idea if she would be in a difficult way for many years or just a short time. As it was, it was the latter.
There are a variety of situations that seem to arise as you take care of your loved ones. One thing is that most caregivers forget to take care of themselves. For some reason, especially with an elderly partner taking care of their spouse, they forget themselves and worry to death about their loved one. Unfortunately, the caregiver becomes extremely stressed and the stress will do them in.
My mother insisted that she was the only one that could care for my step dad. She listened to some of my advise but she was so consumed with stress and grief that she could not think clearly. I was unable to be with her for any length of time and she didn't want anyone around....a huge mistake. Everyone could tell she was falling apart physically and mentally but no one could talk to her or she wouldn't listen to anyone. Now she is watching my cousin go through the same thing and she now sees what we all saw with her. I have no real idea how to convey to these caregivers that they need to allow others to help them. They need to take care of themselves. They are no good to anyone if they will be in the hospital themselves.
The other problem I see is with guilt. I do not know why we as humans have to feel guilty about everything we do or don't do. I watched my husband feel guilty about his behavior towards his mother in her last days. He was impatient with her and sometimes was quick to temper. He hated the way he acted but could not seem to help himself. To this day he regrets his feelings in those days.
I had some guilt too. I honored my in-laws request and did not take them to the hospital. I felt that I gave them special loving care at home and the doctor was always consulted but members of the family chastised me for not taking them in so they could be put on IV's and such. I did get pain meds in them the best I could. Everything I read said that those in their last days really do not feel pain. They did not look stressed (neither could talk or even acted like they were with us for a few days before death) so I don't think they were in pain. Many days after they were gone I questioned myself and wondered if I should have gone against their wishes and taken them in to the hospital. My husband was going through the same feeling as myself but he was determined to honor their wishes.
The next issue is that of asking for help. I am from a strong willed family. Ones that think they can do it all by themselves. The fact is, everyone needs someone. I was on the phone to my mother several times a day and made sure my step sister was over at my mom's as often as possible. My mother kept wanting to turn everyone away. My cousin is wanting family around but she is discouraged because her son and grandchildren are not calling and visiting when time is getting short. I asked her if they know how bad he is and if she has told them. She said she hasn't told them but she is disappointed that they don't know. My comment is that YOU should tell them. People that are not there and not around do not have a real idea of how bad things might be. You need to communicate with them. Do not expect them to know and understand the situation just because you think they should know. No one knows until you have seen it for yourself.
Caring for those in their last days can wear a person down in every way possible. Family and friends need to be understanding of the nature of what the caregiver is going through. This is not a time to bring up controversial subjects or ask more of the caregiver than they can handle. Step forward and help the best you can but be understanding of the mental state the caregiver is in and do not make their life worse by expecting them to cater to your needs and ideas. Be loving and understanding to them and most important, be there for them. A lending ear can be just what they need but a helping hand may give them a moment to step away and take a second breath.
Again I say, hats off to those of you who are taking care of your loved ones in their final days. Know that there is help available if needed but be willing to let others step in and give you a break sometimes. Don't play the hero, you need to take care of yourself too. Taking care of your loved ones in their last days is the greatest service one can do for another. You are my heroes.
NOTE: (added April 6, 2011
My cousin has ended his struggles on this side and has gone to be with his family that preceded him in death - his parents and two of his three sons. He will be missed....We love you Lee!