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Three Things I Learned about Dying

 

As you may know from my post last month, my father passed away after complications of congestive heart failure. I’ve got to say, the final few days of my father’s life lived up to the apprehension and dread I felt, knowing he was approaching the end. On the one hand, I was praying for Dad to be free from pain. On the other, I knew goodbye was coming.

You want it and you don’t. You think you’ll feel better and you won’t. It’s the conundrum of dying.

A month ago, my 92-year-old dad entered the hospital with a lung infection. Two days later he went on hospice. I had never personally experienced hospice until then. I still don’t know a lot. But I learned a few things in the five days my father was officially on end-of-life care that I hope will be helpful to share with you.

Every journey is different, I am sure of that. Mine was life-changing.

Georgene’s dad was on hospice for five days before he passed away.

1. Hospice is More Than Pain Management

During his five days in the hospital under hospice care, my father received drugs to manage pain. I said “no” to drugs in the ‘70s but, I’ve got to say, there is a time and place for them. Hospice is one of those times. But hospice is so much more than drugs.

Throughout the week, hospice staff and volunteers stopped by at least once a day. While they couldn’t make predictions, they did offer much insight. They could tell us, with some accuracy, when my father would no longer be able to verbally communicate. These trained professionals warned when time was running short for important conversations. “Have you said what needs to be said?” they asked more than once. “Has your father seen everyone he would want to see?”

The hospice workers explained what was happening, and what would happen.

For the first few days, Dad was able to converse with us – even eat a bit. A steady stream of family and friends came to visit. During one of those visits, my father was actually joking around, which prompted a visitor to wonder why we didn’t reduce his drugs and get him to eat a little more. The answer? Because he was dying. I didn’t have the courage to say that. What I did say was that the pain would have been unbearable had we done that.

2. Dying Doesn’t Change Who You Are

If you’ve followed my blog, you know my father hung on to independence for dear life and tried his best to retain a quality of life during these last few years. But when he decided it was time to go, it seemed he couldn’t get out of this world fast enough.

Nurses who awakened him to put liquid morphine into his mouth were regularly met with this reaction: “Leave me alone, I’m trying to die.” Dad calmed down when they told him it was simply pain medication they were giving him. While there’s nothing funny about Dad’s response, it did bring a smile to all of our faces. It was so my father. It was as if he was concentrating with all of his might to make the exit. Standing at the precipice waiting to jump. Trying to figure out what to do to make it all happen. Ever the impatient guy.

3. It’s a Waiting Game

Ethical debates aside, dying is a waiting game – not just for the person lying in the bed, but for the rest of us too. And if your spouse or parent is in a hospital, like my dad, and the waiting game continues, you may be faced with the decision to move to another facility. Those discussions and decisions can add stress to a family. They did for ours. But I understand. It’s the way our system works. If you’re not actively healing or dying, you must go somewhere else, such as a skilled care community or hospice house.

In the end, Dad made his exit on the morning when hospice was planning to evaluate him for a possible move. He died in the hospital before hospice workers arrived. I was relieved for Dad.

Hospice changed the way I view dying. The experience personalized a process that most of us don’t want to think about. Some of the fear and stigma are gone for me.  And while goodbye was as tough as I had imagined it would be, hospice care made all the difference.

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. August 14, 2019 at 11:43 pm | Posted by Hbryce

    My Dad died of CHF...recently. It has been extremely difficult. I miss him every day. As a health care professional (R T) all I could do was look at the x-rays and know how much trouble he was in, able to access but unable to prescribe. He was my mentor and gave guidance throughout my life. We were both pilots together, discovering that great passion. Now that he is gone I feel the wind out of my sails. He was the only one who really understood me. This disease took him swiftly over a period of 2 months. The hospice was a God Send as he chose no further medical treatment. End of life is so very difficult. I have been guilty of texting him and sending pictures, expecting a response, while knowing he was gone... hoping and searching for that one response. The reality is... He is gone. It's a strange thing being human. You live, you die by choices you made and at the end of the day it's only a miniscule slice in the impact on the universe. And after all, why do we ants think we make a difference in that? I know that I can still love my children, take care of others and reach the highest heights my one soul can do. That's all I can do, and try to enjoy it along the way. The bitterness is in the end, like making the last run, taking the last hike, flying the last flight, taking the last breath. Kind of makes you want to live it all while knowing...all this...someday this Will end.

    Reply

  2. May 31, 2019 at 1:29 am | Posted by Kim Gorgoglione

    My mother has been sick for at least 20 years. She is a 4th stage cancer SURVIVOR. Now she is nearly deaf, nearly blind, incontinent, bedridden, wracked with long term Rheumatoid Arthritis, has COPD, has CHF, and a variety of other issues. But, she refuses to consider hospice and goes in and out of the hospital by ambulance. I'm so tired of all of this! I had her living with me throughout her cancer years and when she recovered she wanted to get on with life in her own apartment. So, she lived alone for 11 years. Eighteen months ago I had to put her in a nursing home and she has been mad at me ever since. This has been awful.

    Reply

  3. December 7, 2016 at 8:31 pm | Posted by Marie

    I am so overwhelmed right now. I am caring for my 76 year old mother who is diagnosed with brain metastasis. Last week she was put on hospice. I quit my job to care for her. I ask my younger sister to come sit with her so I can get a break and she refuses. My brother helps as much as he can but he can't change her.

    Reply

  4. October 12, 2016 at 11:01 pm | Posted by Jill Chase

    One day I watched two very young hospices nurses give my father a bath. He was nearing the end of his life and was in the nursing home. Their skill and compassion was overwhelming for me to watch. I got up and left because I did not want to cry in front of them. Their touch was so gentle, their concern was real. This is not a pleasant job, it smells, and their patient dies. What kind of person does this? Its not the money, that I am sure of. They are a special kind of person. I took them flowers and candy after my dad died but that seemed so little compared to what they had done for us.

    Reply

    • October 18, 2016 at 10:50 am | Posted by Georgene Lahm

      It is a calling for sure, Jill Chase! I don't know how they do it either. But I am so grateful there are people who do!

      Reply

  5. October 12, 2016 at 4:33 pm | Posted by gwen

    my husband of 56 yrs married is in dementia home, has had loads of TIA and very badly damaged heart. Has to be cared for with everything eating etc. lost speech. lost everything but the will to live is strong. I dread the day of seperation, a blessing for him but the greatest loss will be felt by me. Who knows I might have gone before him. Have seen so many and death lingering with Alzheimers is not at all pleasant to the family.

    Reply

    • October 18, 2016 at 10:54 am | Posted by Georgene Lahm

      Yes, that will to live was so strong in my father as well, Gwen. There are few things more difficult than watching those we love suffer. Thank you for sharing. Please take care of yourself. I pray you have peace.

      Reply

  6. October 11, 2016 at 6:28 pm | Posted by Karen

    My father died June 7, 2016. complications from alzheimers. Hospice helped us and we kept dad at home where he was most happy. They knew also all the things to say to us and to prepare us for his passing, but I wonder if I will ever get over losing him. I miss him so. After he passed they took care of getting him ready to go to funeral home, with such respect and dignity for him. He was 90 years young and had been without mom for 14 years, he missed her so. Veteran, Dad, Papaw, great papaw. So blessed to have him in my life and thankful for the people in hospice care. It takes a special person to work in that field and I feel God places them there. My best to you all, and remember my brother and I as we heal.

    Reply

    • October 18, 2016 at 11:02 am | Posted by Georgene Lahm

      I miss my dad too, Karen! My father had been widowed for a long time as well -- 15 years. So many of us on this same road. I take comfort in that and I hope you do as well. I will be thinking of you and your family, and will pray for your healing. Thank you for reaching out. God bless. Georgene

      Reply

    • March 15, 2019 at 12:10 am | Posted by trinity

      Hi, Im thinking about puting my dad on hospice but I dont know which one should i pick to put him in less of the pain as I could. I want to pick home hospice and keep him with me but Im afraid when I see him struggle or might be bleed then I wont able to hold my tear or can do it. can someone give me an advice base on their expirence or some real info that they been through. I did get some from the hospice but I want real oppinion from peoples whom been there before

      Reply

      • June 23, 2019 at 9:42 pm | Posted by Nan

        My heart goes out to you. I had been taking care of my 92 year old mom for five years. She has late stage Alzheimer’s, but was still able to get around. She also has complete hearing loss. She was supposed to use her walker, but absolutely refused. In March of this year, she fell and broke her right hip. That was such a horrible thing, in and of itself. After the surgery, she went to a Skilled Nursing Rehab Facility. After a month of rehab therapy, she was showing little improvement, due to her Alzheimer’s and hearing loss. So she was moved out of the rehab wing to a room on the other side of the building. She had had a recent biopsy on her left cheek for melanoma. Things went from bad to very bad when she got MRSA in the wound. She wouldn’t stop picking at it. That’s when Hospice started coming every day to care for the wound. The nurses are true angels. They came every day to care for my mom, and it took awhile, but they got her face healed very well, and strong antibiotics took care of the MRSA. Now, a month later, she developed a nasty sore on her heel from always sleeping on her back. It also has MRSA in it. The loving, caring Hospice nurses are taking care of her. Just in the last week, she started keeping her eyes closed and not speaking. The nurse explained that her body is starting to shut down. My sister and I take turns going every day to feed her. She is, as of today, still eating and drinking. I cannot express how awesome, caring and helpful the Hospice nurses are. They are there not only for our loved ones, but for the family as well. I would highly recommend calling your local Hospice and let them come in to help care for your dad.

        Reply

  7. October 11, 2016 at 10:39 am | Posted by Linda

    So sorry for your loss. My husband was on Hospice for several months before dying of bladder cancer. They were my guardian angels. I was so relieved that it was over...then experienced guilt over those feelings. I am now taking care of my 92 year old mother...I pray she passes in her sleep; hate to see her struggle...

    Reply

    • October 11, 2016 at 5:33 pm | Posted by Georgene Lahm

      My condolences on the loss of your husband, Linda. Thank you for sharing. I will pray as well for an easy exit for your mother. Take care of yourself! Georgene

      Reply

  8. October 7, 2016 at 12:19 am | Posted by Georgene Lahm

    I am so sorry, Carol. You must try to hang on as best you can, knowing you've done everything you can possibly do for your mother. Pray that God will watch out for her and He will. The one thing I learned is that as much as we want to fix everything for our loved ones, so much is out of our hands. Please take care of yourself. It's difficult, but try to get regular sleep, eat well and exercise if you can. God bless, and I will be thinking of you. Georgene

    Reply

  9. October 6, 2016 at 3:50 pm | Posted by CAROL

    I am hurting so much today. My mother who will be 85 at the end of the month was moved from a hospital today to a nursing home. Her body is in bad shape but her mind is pretty good. That is what makes it hard. She was in the hospital for the last week with many digestive & colon problems as well as pneumonia. It was touch & go last week Then "failure to thrive" as she rejected alot of procedures & meds in the hospital.. Now off to long term nursing care. She thinks she is only going for a few weeks of rehab as there is a bit of dementia that is rapidly progressing. I am feeling so guilty! I am trying to balance work, home life and visiting her. I just feel exhausted all the time from emotions running high and low. I am scared for her as you hear about the elderly being abused and neglected at times. I want to just have a good cry. I am tired of holding this in!!!

    Reply

    • October 12, 2016 at 9:28 am | Posted by Cheryl Smith

      Carol, I'm so sorry to hear about the change in your mother's health, and the angst you're experiencing. I will be praying today that God gives you abundant peace in the midst of the storm.

      Reply

    • October 19, 2016 at 2:45 am | Posted by Sadie

      Carol, go ahead and have that cry! You don't have to hold it in. And ALL of your feelings are completely normal and understandable.

      Reply

    • March 15, 2019 at 12:19 am | Posted by trinity

      hi Carol,I think i know exactly how you feel because Im expiring the same thing as you now.my dad just got out of a hospital a few day ago because of preumonia and have fluid mostly on his stomach even going to dialysis dont help because everytime he on the machine then his blood pressure would drop and his stromach would hurt alots and pass out. i dont know what to do now but I have quit my job to put all my times on him even though I been taking care of my dad for almost 9 years and from full time job to part time and now I stop working for him because I love my daddy alots and I want to do everything I could for my parent like they do to me but is sooo hurt looking at my dad being in pain but I cant do anything. Im currently try ing to dialysis for a few more days and see if is work but if not then I have to stop since the doctor dont know what going on and they cant do anything for him. I wish the best thing come to you and everything work out

      Reply

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