Thursday, July 18, 2013

Living with Strangers

For nine months, I barely tolerated my narcissistic weekend caregiver and his slovenly ways.

    He never cleaned.

    He broke my dining room chairs.

    He wore his pants so low, he graced me with his bare butt when he bent over.

    He grumbled, grumped and demanded that I meet his latest need.

    Finally, I could no longer stand this man radiating bad temper through the house while my uncle was dying. Yet, the company who supplied my caregivers refused to replace him.

    So, I decided to do what I should have done long ago: get my weekend caregiver from a different company. I'd put it off and put it off, not wanting to rock the delicate, care-giving boat.

    I've gone through a lot of caregivers since my uncle has lived with me. I feel incredibly lucky to have a great person five days a week. What if I went to another company, yet got another dud?

          It's not easy being a live-in caregiver. It's much harder when
          a competent person is living right there. To succeed, my
          caregivers must do everything for my uncle - who can do
          nothing for himself - PLUS get along with me.

    I sympathized that someone might find the situation stressful.  That didn't mean I should tolerate a resentful person skulking about.

    Then, like a miracle, without my doing anything, the annoying caregiver disappeared. I was assigned an amazing man from Southwest Nigeria (the region Shell and BP have made into an environmental disaster area). Highly educated, experienced, and with an optimistic sense of humor - he was good with Milt and with me.

    I couldn't believe my luck or blessing or whatever it was.

    I felt more relaxed than practically since I started this gig.

    Living with a dying man is an emotional wringer, but that is not so hard. Hard is sharing my house with an endless parade of well-meaning or not-so-well-meaning strangers while that emotional wringing is in progress.

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    Monday, July 15, 2013

    Death Practice

    I knew it was time for Milt to be in hospice last fall, but I still didn't like it. When I agreed to do this, I thought we'd have at least five years together, hopefully longer. Two and a half years? I couldn't make sense of it. I gave the hospice folks a lot of grief as I twisted and turned, pushed and pulled, unable to lie comfortably in this new bed.

    I'd expected that when Milt was ready to let go, I wouldn't hold on. I didn't want him to linger just to take care of me. But the fact is, last fall, I could not honestly say that to him. However much I didn't want to, I clung to him, a desperate hunger in my throat. I needed him to live.

    Luckily, he was not in a hurry, either. We coasted along, immensely helped by hospice, as Milt slid slowly toward the end. The change was so gradual, it was only obvious when it was time for his six months review.

    To stay in hospice (at least paid for by medicare), you have to be in a steady decline. The expectation is that you'll be dead within six months. You can take longer - as long as you are making steady, downward progress.

    When I made a list of Milt's losses over that six months, there were many. No question we could stay in hospice - thankfully, as we had grown dependent on their services - but it was a great reprieve. He might be dying, but he wasn't dying all that fast.

    Then, about two months later, he suddenly said, "I'm dying." His voice was softly wondering, as if he was simply cataloging an interesting fact.

    Now, Milt has not wanted to discuss his impending demise and had never previously said anything remotely like this. Not only was it a strange thing for him to say, his whole affect had changed. He was oddly blank and floating - lying back with his eyes rolled up to show the white.

    "Are you dying right now, today," I asked.

    It took awhile to get his attention, but he said yes.

    "Your brother is visiting tomorrow. Will you still be here."


    Nothing was hurting and he wasn't scared. He was simply ready to go and he was going. I held his hand and for the first time, was able to honestly say that it was okay for him to go. I would be fine.

    Turned out to be a practice run. It seems it is not uncommon for people to dip into dying and then come back. Like they need a taste before committing to the real thing.

    At ten months and counting, Milt has had two more hospice evaluations. He is still on a steady slide out. He's also had four more of these dying practice sessions. He had one today.

    Am I still ready? Well...

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