This is a window into how the dying process need not be a mournful affair. It is written by a woman who was caring for her mother who had bowel cancer. Eventually, after nine months, she had to put her mother into a nursing home as it became too difficult to look after her at home. This was written in the last few days of her mother’s life.
Next day there was a marked deterioration in her physical state. Her body was so weak she could hardly speak and she could no longer support her own weight or sit in her chair. They stopped taking her to the dining room and brought her some broth but she was no longer interested in eating.
Fluid had been building up in her feet and ankles and now her arms and face were starting to swell up and she was puffy around her fingers and elbows but skin and bone everywhere else. The nurse had given her an enema because her bowels had not moved.
It took two nurses to get her to the toilet. They used a hoist to lift her out of bed and lower her onto the toilet chair. She laughs like a child and then cries out with the pain. She sits on the toilet for a long time with her head on my belly while I rub her back, one nurse massaging her belly and the other one cheering her on: “Push … imagine you are giving birth…” Finally her bowels empty and the nurse wipes her bottom with gloved hand and they hoist her back into bed. Mum falls asleep exhausted.
In spite of all this she still has dignity and the nurses treat her with respect and love.
All the staff enjoy helping mum because she’s not a complainer and she expresses her appreciation for what they do and, though it is a distressing experience for her, she still has her sense of humour. The nurses are such angels and so down to earth, not fazed by body odours, blood or vomit. “The dark ones are my favourites . . . they’re so gentle,”says mum about the African and Indian nurses who work there.
Mum now needs to wear a nappy and she finds it hard to swallow fluids. The nurses turn her every few hours so she does not get bed sores and they pop in every fifteen minutes or so to check on her.
Mum is so aware of everything and much more honest than she ever was. For example, I stood up to go and she asked me to stay, which I did. But after a few minutes she said to me, “You’ve left me, haven’t you?” It was true, I had. It was wonderful to hear her being so honest and not afraid to say what she truly felt. She is like a baby – so exquisitely delicate and sensitive.
Mum is starting to get pain in the bowel as well as having a tight chest from the tumour pressing on the liver and diaphragm. The doctor decided it was time to start increasing her pain relief, as she was now in the dying process. This makes her sleep very soundly but even then she seems aware when I am there and if I let go of her hand she stirs. The hearing is the last thing to go and her hearing is acute.
The janitor brought in a bed for me so that I could stay the night beside mum. “It’s just like when we shared a room on our New Zealand trip together,” I said. A big smile lit up her face.
We fell asleep early but I was up every few hours just as mum must have done for me when I was a baby. I was glad to be there with her to hold her hand and give her sips of water. Her mouth was terribly dry but the water did not ease the sensation.
It was hard for me not being able to ease her discomfort and I had to keep reminding myself to just observe and not take it on in any way.
My brother joined us early on this particular morning and we sat with mum. She was amazingly alert and had a lovely glow to her skin. “I think this is my dying day,” she said.
“I’ve got a noise in my ears,” she says, and when I ask her about it she says, “it’s a dying rush.” She seems to be moving in and out of another world: “My boyfriends are coming in an aeroplane,”she says. Then she put her hand on my belly, looks me straight in the eye and says: “You’ve got lovely babies.”
She drifts off to sleep and we enjoy the deep stillness in the room. “It’s like being deep underwater,” says my brother. I felt several times that mum was about to go but then she seemed unable to let herself go fully.
I need to get back to work so I say goodbye to mum. Something in me knows that this is really ‘Goodbye’… and indeed I never saw her again alive.
I wake at 4am with a strong sense of being with mum. At 5am the phone rings. It is The Call. “Your mother passed over peacefully at 4:30am.” The nurse sounded very moved by the experience. She said she was holding mum’s hand as she breathed her last breath.
I drive up to the nursing home. The nurse on duty takes me into mum’s room. There is no doubt . . . it is just a dead body laying here. I can feel mum’s love alive in me and in the room.
In that moment I realise that the body is just a vehicle of expression for the essence. It is not who we are.
The nurse leaves and I sit with the body. It has an amazing marble-like quality – stone dead. The nurses had folded her hands over her breast and laid some carnations between the fingers. There is a little smile on the face.
The body looks so serene I try to take a photo. I press the button and words came up on the camera screen: ‘Battery Exhausted’ it says. I laugh out loud and I can feel mum laughing with me. This experience with my mother has left me with a deeper understanding of how beautiful and healing the dying process can be.
Sandra N., Australia
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