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...