The End

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 (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?


7 thoughts on “The End

  1. Trish

    Oh, Kristin! You are the definition of altruistic – you have cared for someone who was not even a family member and whose daughters had virtually abandoned. At the expense of your own health and financial future. You have NOTHING to be a shamed of!

    I want to say I’m sorry for Mary’s decline but it actually seems like it is the best for her. She will be out of her misery. I am sorry for anyone to have lived like that and not have been able to find resolution and comfort. You provided that for her, Kristin. She ended up feeling comfortable with you (not all the time, but you provided stability to her). The gift you gave to Mary (of being there) was amazing and commendable.

    There are decisions for you to make but, hopefully, you can work something out with the daughters so you won’t have to make any within 24 hours. Perhaps they can let you live there until you can formulate a plan.

    Please take care of yourself and my heart is with you as you help Mary with her transition. I so love your adventurous spirit! Sending you hugs!

  2. Avatar of ejourneysejourneys

    I can only echo everything Trish has said, Kristin. Big Hugs from me, too. What you have been doing is nothing less than extraordinary.

    Mary’s transition will take nothing away from that. You are altruistic, period. You are caring for a dear, dear soul, who also happens to be yourself, and that soul deserves the same love and consideration you have given to Mary. I am keeping my fingers crossed that you and the daughters can work something out, and that you can have the same stability that you have selflessly provided for Mary all these years.

  3. Avatar of KathyKathy

    Kristin, I can only echo the words of the others.
    May God keep you in the palm of His hand and guide you in the direction he can use you in.
    You’ve done an amazing job caring for Mary and I too admire you for it.

  4. Avatar of G-JG-J


    From the time I met you on, I have been in awe of you. You have become the live-in caregiver for a woman who is mean and nasty to the point where her own children do not want to have to deal with her. You have truly an amazing person!

    Although everyone’s situation is slightly different, I know I have had similar feelings, wondering about my future. (Actually, someday I plan to blog about this so people can weigh in.)

    You are in incredibly giving woman. I hope your living situation works out to your satisfaction.

  5. kristin

    Thank you for all your kind comments (it’s amazing that a woman who is virtually bed-bound can take up so much of my time that I have only, 24 hours later, been able to respond to you). The daughters will not kick me out – probably I will have 3 months or so to make and execute a plan for my future. In this real-estate market I doubt the house will sell before then. The daughters really appreciate what I have done for their mother and, I believe, will help with any plan I come up with. I just find it weird to have to make a plan-for-life at the age of 68.

    This whole issue of altruism I find very interesting. I originally agreed to take care of Marion to satisfy a moral debt I felt I owed to one of the daughters. I stayed long after the debt could have been considered to have been paid because I felt it was the right thing to do – there is no way I could have really entertained the notion of Mary going into a nursing home. My feeling now is one of accomplishment: I have managed to hang in there long enough to see Mary die in her home, a feat that many times I thought impossible. Altruism is supposed to be selfless. Congratulating oneself on “hanging in there” is certainly not selfless. I wonder if other caretakers say, at the end,”Whew! I did it!” My guess is that most caretakers are more focused on the loss than their pluck in sticking with the caree to the end. I suppose I’ll find out how venial and self-absorbed I am when I face St. Peter somewhere down the line.

    Thanks again for your supporting comments and wishes.

  6. Avatar of DeniseDenise

    Hi Kristin–I know Bette will share more when she can but she very much wanted to make it to the end with her mother at home. Caregiving can feel feel like such a battle then I do think many feel that amazing sense of accomplishment at the end.

    I so love your idea about walking across the country. (And, am very touched you’d do it to raise money for the site.) Why not think about doing it?

    I think our circumstances change throughout our life, regardless of our age, which can be quite freeing, really. We have a few times in our life when we can really say, “Okay!! What will I do next???”

    I have a feeling something amazing is right around your corner. I’m so glad we’ll be able to see it with you.


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