Unless you’re a professional caregiver, a healthcare professional, or someone who has sat with dying people, it’s likely you’ll be unprepared for the experience of a loved one’s last days. At least, that is what I discovered watching life disappear in my mom’s last days. At first, I went into the mad cap, adrenaline flowing “what to do now” scenario. After stumbling, lost in a fog of disorienting confusion, I discovered tools helping me get through each day and be present for Mom.
Use Your Intuition
Over the years, I have learned ways to listen to and trust my inner voice, which prompts me to do what is needed in the moment rather than what is prescribed. Although I was mentally unprepared and sometimes felt I did not have what it takes to be a competent caregiver, I did have my intuition, my soul’s awareness and open communication with Mom. I was able to navigate Mom’s most important moments.
Know what others have experienced
Your local bookstore or Amazon has a host of excellent books about death and dying. I didn’t have the time, bandwidth or desire to read much, so I picked books that called to me. By the time I was done reading, I knew a lot more about the dying process from several different points of view: from expert health authorities; from hospice nurses; from family members; and from those who had near death experiences. I discovered what others knew and found my way through tears, frustration, and sadness to a place of peace.
Accept that there will be ‘those days’
There is no right way to be with someone actively dying or a right way to die or right way to handle your emerging emotions. There is no perfect way to hold the energy for the one dying, as you stay present to their needs. Our caregiver team found that if we followed Mom’s very subtle prompts and honored her desires, the day went better. If she wanted to eat a hearty breakfast, then we would make it. If she only wanted coffee, she got that. We did not impose our thoughts of what she must do. She was the leader. Of course, there were bumps in the road, sleepless nights, irritations, bad decision making, untimely prescriptions, feeling like you are the Lone Ranger lost in the dark woods, frightened you are making mistakes and more.
I created a caregiver group including those who loved mom up as well one with specific skills to guide us. Because mom did not qualify for Hospice (she was dying of old age, not a disease), her doctor was my main lifeline. Along with Mom, the care team taught me and I followed their lead. Being with mom for her last breath was a gift and a deeply loving privilege. During all the hustle and fast paced moments of doing all we needed for her, I was not prepared for that peaceful surprising moment when Mom let go. I was totally unrehearsed for the end game. I don’t think anyone is ever prepared.
I started to write the day I knew that Mom really was on her way through what I now know as her Pink Door. In the process of journaling, I discovered my strengths, delved into my fears, laughed with mom, told the truth, uncovered family stories, found my emotions stretched thin and made vital realizations about life and death. My writing turned into a memoir/journal with an intimate look at the 30 days leading up to my mom’s transition. Loosing a parent, mate or best friend will never ever be easy. It is an inevitable life lesson each of us will experience.