On watching loved ones die, close-up

I’ve watched two people die close up. “In-the-room-with-them” close-up.

My father died in 1998, from a form of lung cancer. The last hours of his life, he sounded like the gurgling of a drip coffee maker. He gurgled himself to death. I think they call that the “death rattle”. Fortunately hospice was there to give him some morphine through that experience. I repeated to myself then, “the wages of sin is death”.

Some years later, I watched my wife die. Her death was quicker and much more merciful. She apparently had a heart attack as the result of overworking herself digging up some old yucca plants. I’ve written about that extensively.

I’m now watching my mother die in slow motion from Alzheimer’s. I had written “Alzheimer’s disease”, but I changed my mind on that. It’s not a “disease”. It’s not caused by bacteria or viruses. It seems to be something environmental.

On Monday, she will go into a nursing home. We’re not sure how much of her is even still alive.

Her body walks around for sure. In that regard, she’s like one of the “walkers” from “The Walking Dead”. She just has this urge to walk. Maybe it’s because, while she was losing herself, I walked with her every day. But over time, her knees and other things started to hurt. She lost her balance easily. She fell a number of times. So I stopped walking with her.

But now when she walks, she has a destination. We have hired an outside caregiver who lives up the street, and my mom just wants to walk to see her care giver.

The problem is, she does this at odd hours. The middle of the day. The middle of the night. She also walks in the snow, without shoes or coat. She is incontinent and cannot control her bowels. She has made big messes in public.

She cannot speak a complete sentence. I see her every day, yet she does not know whether I am her father or her husband or her son. I remind her, “I’m your number one baby boy. You slept on the floor in the hospital when I had pneumonia as a baby. I’m here for you”. She at least knows this.

And yet she is incredibly inventive getting out of the house. It’s amazing how inventive she is in getting out, given how much of everything else she has lost. We’ve locked entrances and exits. Alarmed them. She tears out the alarms, and she evades locks and bolts.

Whenever someone is not with her, day or night, she will try to get out of the house, wandering the streets. The police have been called.

She has lived in the same house for 60 years. She has sat in the same chair, watching TV, and it is all set up just the way she set it up years ago, when my father died. We first noticed something was wrong when we saw her driving her car on Lebanon Church Road with the driver’s side door flapping open.

She has been quite independent over the years, but now, she will sit in her chair, look you in the eye, and say, “will you take me home?”

She is 82. Both of her parents spent their last years in nursing homes; her father died at age 87, her mother died at 81. Both with dementia. She resisted her mother’s path. Her mother was overweight, had bad knees, and was in a wheelchair long before she was in a nursing home.

So over the years, my mom had bariatric surgery, lost a lot of weight, and was extremely active in church and in her community of friends. I personally have hoped never to put her in a nursing home.

But our efforts have failed and have given way to the inevitability. On Monday, we’ll be taking her to her new home. We can’t care for her 24 hours a day. We don’t know if she’ll understand, or if she’ll protest, or if she’ll feel at home in a community of other people.

We don’t know if she has died already. In some sense, we are all “the walking dead”. Maybe that is part of the appeal of that TV show. But we have a great hope. ”For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The Bible says, “If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”

It was the writer of Ecclesiastes who said, “There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good. This also I have seen that it is from the hand of God”.

Every one of us will follow this path. It is with great thankfulness that we are able to realize, “it is from the hand of God”.

There is only one hope in the face of it. But it is a great hope: “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”