After my break from caregiving when I had my open-heart surgery, I spent two weeks with Mary, whose oldest daughter was here to help with the lifting thing. Then I took care of Mary for a couple of weeks before the daughter came back to relieve me for my regularly-scheduled vaca in CA to see my sister. What I was dealing with with Mary was end-stage stuff (the loss of some communication skills, increased frailty, refusal to eat, etc.). When I left, I had no intention of contacting the daughter about Mary; I have confidence in her ability to handle anything Mary can throw at her. But I had to call re a household issue and inadvertently got an update on Mary: she was highly anxious, moving all the time and being very difficult over all. I hung up the phone wishing I hadn’t known this. Now I thought frequently about what I would be returning to. I didn’t want to know this on my vacation.
The night before I left for home, I called the daughter for a detailed update, so I would know what I was coming home to. What I learned shocked me: Mary had not eaten OR drunk for 5 days, was virtually bedridden and given a few days to a month to live. Great news overall, as none of us wants to see Mary suffer one minute longer than she has to. But I was concerned about what I might face in this end-of-life drama. I have sat with many people as they died/transitioned/passed on. I have given hands to hold and hugs to numerous people who have told me marvelous things during their transition. But Mary is SO inconsolable and resistant to any kind of solace. Her husband was just the opposite and made a wonderful transition 6 years ago, with his daughters at his side (not Mary, who stood across the room, apparently uninvolved in this great drama).
The Mary who was able, just 10 days ago, to talk of end-of-life issues is gone; the most complicated thing she can think about is how to color in a coloring book (which the daughters bought her to keep her occupied during periods of excess anxiety). There is no going back to the Mary of the amazing disclosures.
But I guess we have learned as much of the hidden Mary as we are going to, and must be grateful that we have received some sort of insight into what made her the unhappy, rigid and controlling person she was for most of her life. As a therapist, of course, I wish I could have done something to make her life LOOK better than it did for her. But, as I say, she was inconsolable, and nothing I or her daughters could say could have made her childhood or parents any better than they were, nor given Mary the authority to put her childhood experiences in a place where they could not currently harm her. She has now reverted to an infant state, and we can only provide her the best care possible.
I must admit, somewhat ashamedly, that one of my biggest concerns at this point is: What happens to me? Mary is taken care of. Death is kind, and she will be where she needs to be. I moved down here to take care of her. I have reconnected with friends I knew 22 years ago. I have re-fallen in love with the Catskill Mountains and the neighborliness and commitment to sustainability I find here. But I live on Social Security and can afford either a car OR a place to live. Here you need both. So I find myself considering such options as: 1) Mexico, which is cheap and car-less; senior housing (oh, please, God, don’t make me do this because they only have electric stoves in those apartments and, besides, the places are just gossip warrens); walking across country with my dog, Clyde, for the benefit of Caregiving.com (I have always wanted to walk across this great country and suppose I could do this now that I have clean heart pipes); hmmm, running out of options here.
You see my moral dilemma. I am happy that Mary is close to resolution, but concerned on my own account. Not very altruistic, is it?