Don't Wait: On Death and Dying
As I sit and type this my legs are propped up on my Obachan’s hospital bed, in my living room. The fire is blazing, the children are running around playing, Matthew and my best friend are in the kitchen making dinner, and my Mom is at the kitchen table.
And Obachan is dying.
She’s been without food for over two weeks now…and just barely sipping water.
She surprises us with her moments of alertness. She stopped taking her dementia medication when she she stopped eating but in a way, she’s actually engaging more with us. They say this is all normal and part of the dying process.
But even in her alert moments she’s unable to really talk. To carry on a conversation. To say what she needs to say.
We spend a lot of time playing “20 questions” with her.
The other night we were all curled around her watching a movie. I was on the hospital bed with her tickling her arm and playing with her hair. All of a sudden she turned to me as if to say something urgent. But she went to speak and the words wouldn’t come. I said, “Obachan, do you want to say something?” And she nodded. I kissed her forehead and said, “Do you want to tell me how much you love me?” I was half joking, because we’d already been through about 10 rounds of guessing what she was trying to say. But she started nodding vigorously. “I love you too,” I said. And I kept cuddling her old, broken, dying body.
In the past two years I’ve sat at the death beds of two people who were an integral part of my life. My dad and my Obachan. My dad’s death was tragic and horrific. He never once felt peace, even with all the drugs we were giving him to try and ease his pain. Obachan’s death has been much more peaceful. One day she just stopped swallowing. The doctors diagnosed her with failure to thrive. We were given the option to admit her to the hospital to try and save her 89 year old body…but we knew that wasn’t what she wanted. She had always told us she wanted to die at home, surrounded by people who love her, and at peace. She didn’t even want to go the doctor after she stopped swallowing, but, thankfully, that trip allowed us to access all the resources that hospice has to offer.
Since coming home from the hospital she has remained at the center of our home. She has been a part of everything, from the children’s tantrums to bedtime stories. Our village is so big she almost always has someone holding her hand, whether she is awake or not.
And so, we sit by her bedside…her death bed.
Inevitably, as you sit next to a dying human, you start to think.
And if my father and grandmother have taught me anything, it’s this:
Don’t wait to tell your people you love them. Don’t wait to remedy a broken situation. Don’t wait for someone else to do it first.
Caring for Obachan at the end of her life has been one of the greatest honors of our life. Matthew and I joke that he must have some sort of ancestral debt to pay to my family as he first helped my Dad cross over to the other side, and now Obachan. We’re also infinitely grateful that our children have been part of her caregiving process. From the time she started to live with us up until now they have always been involved in her care. They’ve helped bathe and dress her, brought her her teeth, put lotion on her skin, and brought her water. Living in a multigenerational household has been so beneficial for them in so many ways. And now, they’re getting to help their oldest living relative transition out of her earthly body…it’s the gift of a lifetime.
Dying is an all-consuming process. I cannot even begin to fathom what it must be like to feel your organs slowly start to turn on you, your body rejecting your life-force. This, I am positive, is an overwhelming emotion and feeling. I can only imagine what it’s like to also manage the feeling of regret in all this.
Which is why you shouldn’t wait. Tell your people every.single.day you love them, what they mean to you, how your life is better because they are in it.
Don’t stew on negativity.
LET IT GO.
Focus on healing. Growing. LIVING.
None of us know when we will die. So why wait, until the very end, to wrap up any sentiments you might have been harboring all these years? There’s a fairly good chance you won’t be able to speak, or even communicate. Isn’t it better that your people know now?
Yes. Yes it is.
Don’t wait my friends.