Friday, May 31, 2013

Dying in Peace

My uncle lives with me. He is dying. With hospice at our sides,* his passing has a good chance of being gentle and sweet. He’s on the last stretch. I hope he makes it to his birthday in late June, but don't expect him to be here for long after.

Still, his body has a fair bit of letting go to do. He eats less and less, but still eats. (Those truly ready to go often stop eating altogether.) He mostly sleeps, but has short periods of wakefulness and engagement. For an entire day a couple weeks ago, he suddenly returned to the man he’d been – chatting and laughing and showing the astonished hospice folks why he’d been voted funniest professor year after year.

Although his actual slide out of here promises to be easy, in the meantime life has gotten very hard. The slightest touch brings on screaming, swearing, and pleas to stop. Dementia has eaten the part of him that would have let him steel himself through necessary pain, leaving only the moment of agony.

“They’re mean to me,” he replies to my morning greeting. "They tortured me."

In the U.S. with our lack of social services, my uncle is lucky. He can afford decent home help rather than being warehoused under the care of overworked, underpaid, demoralized “nursing” home employees. I’m there to make sure his care is as attentive and kind as possible.
After a year struggling through one comically inadequate live-in helper after another, we stumbled into the arms of a gracious, attentive CNA. A Sunni Muslim from India, he quietly prays when it is time - his devout observance, my uncle’s atheism, and my own eclectic spirituality coexisting without tension.

Finally, reliable care for my uncle. Respite from anxiety for me. 

Yes, we are lucky. For those poorer and less lucky, how much more traumatic dying must be. I expect I will be among the mass of poor and unlucky ones when it is my time. Having watched my uncle, I frankly don't know if I can let myself down into that well or not.

* Medicare presently pays for hospice home care visits during the last six months of life. This serves the caretakers of the dying as much as the dying person. We must not let greedy, corporate privatizers and their political henchmen take this rare benefit.

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  1. Having good, reliable care is so important for both of you.


  2. Thanks for the hug! It is important. I feel for the families who can't afford good care.