Rule #2: Being with someone while they die, especially someone you love, is the most intimate experience you will ever have. (Noteworthy: If you talk about it too much, however, you will creep people out.)
Here’s what one of the nurses told me. There’s birth and marriage and sex and all sorts of intimate experiences out there to be had, but death is the one that can most bond you to a person. Seems like she was right. My mother’s death, and her dying process, feels like such a big part of my life at this point — maybe even deserving of a paragraph on my resume.
May 2011: Chaperoned Mother Into Death
- Supervised dying process, kept pain and discomfort to a minimum
- Interpreted body language, facial expressions and other nonverbal cues; Served as both advocate and spokesperson for the infirm, dealing with both medical/support staff and laypeople, including friends and family
- Other duties as assigned, including the watering of gardens, the collection of mail, the returning of phone calls, the paying of bills.
The truth is, I was such a novice. I had never before seen a dead body; I’m terrified of funerals; I am that person who always says the wrong thing, mostly out of fear and abject ignorance. But yet, my mother trusted me (and my best friend, Michele), with her life — and her death. And somehow we managed.
When it became clear that my mother wasn’t going to survive, the doctors told us there were several drugs at our disposal for (her) pain, anxiety and breathing. We were told to let the nurse know when my mother needed anything. But when someone can’t speak and can barely move, how do you know how what they’re feeling?
“How are they leaving it up to us, two bungling idiots?” Michele asked me.
But then it happens — you really start to tune in. You notice the slightest tensing of the brow. You notice a wince when you move her arm. A slight squeeze of the pinky when you ask if she’s in pain. And you know that current dose of morphine isn’t doing its job; and more important, that you can do something about it. If death isn’t inevitable, pain or discomfort should be.
And then you might notice a slight upward flinch in her mouth when you get it right — an attempt at a smile. A small motion that you might not even notice if you weren’t so there.
So. Yes. It’s a very intimate thing. And it makes me feel sad, and changed, somehow. Maybe wiser. And wise people can still lose it from time to time, right? Right? Especially when said Wise Person is driving and a particular Collective Soul song comes on? I would think.
I guess wisdom doesn’t replace pain. And wisdom isn’t anything you can put on your resume. But that makes me think — the things that really matter in life aren’t actually resume-appropriate anyway. In my limited (but growing) experience, I’d say mostly they’re the things that you bungle through.