Saturday, July 03, 2010

Waiting for Death


Today at Temple Micah, a congregant talked about his mother’s life as he recognized her yahrzeit.  He said that she had devoted her life to thinking of her family.  When it was apparent that she was dying, his wheelchair-bound father was brought in to wait with her.  He got agitated when it became dinnertime and insisted on leaving to eat.  She waited for him to come back before dying.  
I’m thinking a lot about death and dying just now as my mother-in-law lingers in a hospice situation in Detroit.  I was just talking to a friend who asked what the status was, to which I replied, “She’s definitely dying, but very slowly.”  After I said it, I realized how uncaring it sounded, as if death had a timetable.
But I have been wondering what actually happens between that time when someone is said to be dying and the event actually occurs.  I wonder how much is controlled by the dying person and how much is just fate or the body winding down.  
In my mother-in-law’s case, it’s unclear as to whether she knows who is around her.  But maybe she senses more than she can express.  Maybe she is so ecstatic to have her immediate family around her (minus one son) that she is trying to postpone the inevitable.
As I said the mourner’s kaddish toward the end of today’s service, I realized that the next time I would probably say it would be at her funeral, that is if she chooses to die between now and next Shabbat.
She may not have welcomed me into the family with open arms initially (in the Protestant era of my life), but she has treated me with respect and love ever since she realized I was going to be a permanent fixture in the family.  I hope death will come easy for her when it does happen.

11 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe that no one can know what another's experience of that journey through death will be, and that it's different for each being. I hope your mother-in-law's passage is peaceful.

In a sense we're all slowly dying all the time. So: hope we all have a great day...! Hugs to you.

F.

7:58 PM  
Blogger Angela said...

Yes, I have always wondered, too. I have heard of so many people who decided (apparently) to die in that moment when the caring person who had stayed with them all the time, JUST left the room for a pee or a phone call or a short snack, that it cannot be just chance. It seems to me that to a certain extent you CAN wait or at least decide when to let go. No matter how feeble your body is I am quite certain that your mind is still awake and listening. Some say it is a wonderful quiet and peaceful time. I hope so. Let`s hope we will not be quite lost but greeted in love.

4:13 AM  
Blogger Pauline said...

I hope your mother-in-law's passing will be peaceful for her. It is hard to see loved ones go where we can no longer be with them.

I was with my father when he died. The night nurse said he'd been agitated the night before and told her he could not die as he was worried about leaving my mother alone. Then he fell into a deep coma-like sleep. The family left for a bit to get supper but I elected to stay with him. I held his hand and told him we'd miss him but we would all be okay and that we (my brother and sisters) would take care of Mama. He opened his eyes and looked at me for the briefest moment. He continued his labored breathing but the minute my mother came back in the room and took his hand saying, "I'm here J," his whole body relaxed and his breathing stopped. In talking with her later, we agreed that at that moment he let go, knowing she would be taken care of but he waited because he wanted her to know he knew she'd be okay.

6:34 AM  
Blogger Steve Reed said...

I definitely think people have some control over when they choose to die. As F said, I hope your mother-in-law's passage is peaceful.

6:36 AM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

To be blunt, but not cruel, when someone is "dying," they will go a week, tops, without nutrition being supplied, and of course, any time within a week. She'll stop producing urine, and in the last days, she'll begin panting...like she's running a race, which...in a sense, she is. If they are feeding her through tubes, etc...she could last longer.

When my mother was dying, and I knew I wouldn't be leaving her side, I asked the doctor to tell me the truth and lay out exactly what I should be watching for, so I knew, as much as I could, in terms of what to watch for. I suppose I was trying to reduce the shock factor. My mother lasted the full seven days without feeding.

...and it's not uncaring, and it's not a timetable, so don't concern over that. If she's still conscious, she may drift into a coma the last 24 hours.

Like Pauline, I did, during the night, tell my mother it was ok to let go. She had been in a coma a week, but a tear slid out of her eye when I said that. Just heartbreaking, but I feel honored I was there to be with the woman who brought me into the world.

After his father died, Leon Wieseltier decided to sit Kaddish for a year, and then wrote a book about the experience called Kaddish. I think these rituals can be very important after the loss.

As for her senses, the doctors did tell me that even though in a coma, Mom might still be able to hear us, so I talked to her a great deal during that week.

My thoughts are with you and your husband. Losing a parent is a real cut of the thread.

10:19 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

My mother-in-law Diane died just as my husband was boarding the plane to come home today. He had said his goodbyes and she had made a sound acknowledging them. She slipped away quite peacefully within the hour after he left.

We will drive to Detroit this week for the funeral. In the Jewish religion, it's always very soon after the death occurs.

10:48 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

12:59 AM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

I'm glad he had time to say his final goodbyes. My sympathy to you and to your family.

1:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm glad D had his chance to say his good-byes. That's a bit of grace for both him and his mother. I'm sending all three of you my love and sympathy.

F.

11:22 AM  
Blogger Kristin said...

My thoughts are with you and your family.

12:25 PM  
Blogger bozoette said...

All my sympathies to you and your husband. I'm glad he had a chance to say goodbye - I think my mother finally let go after we all said goodbye to her.

10:50 AM  

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