April 26/27, 2021
Today I sit at my friends’ house, as one member of a small support crew of family and friends who are individually serving as caregivers for our mutual friend who is facing the end of his life from metastatic cancer.
A week ago, his father died. A healthy 70 year old until a microscopic virus invaded. Father and son never even got to say goodbye to one another due to COVID. Life support was to be withdrawn after he failed to recover on the ventilator, but he died on his own before that happened. A small piece of peace in the turmoil that has surrounded a father and son, each facing grave illness…
This was to be the week that my dying friend and his devoted wife and partner of 18 years were to have a well deserved and long awaited trip to the beach, now that he was off all chemotherapeutic agents after being unable to continue in the last ditch effort clinical trial, and the decision had been made to stop any further treatment.
Their trip was not to be. His decline since just last week has been rapid. Tomorrow is her 40th birthday. She will spend it, not listening to waves gently brushing the shore as they had hoped, but caring for her dying spouse.
The logistics of managing in-home hospice care are intense, to say the least. And even the best hospice care services require a family member or friend to be available overnight every night to keep the hospice care patient reasonably comfortable and safe.
I am one of those people for my friends. I’ve been down this road before as one of the primary caregivers for my mom, my dad, and a neighbor in hospice care. And I know first hand the value of being able to leave the room of the dying person, even if only for a quick break, to momentarily relieve the oppressive sadness of caring for the dying.
I feel honored to have been invited to be a support person for them in their collective detour into Cancerland, and saddened to witness the suffering.
We have all been vaccinated. I have four more days to be considered fully “protected” for myself and others. But we threw out the rules on hugs.
She and I hug every time I leave. And every time I come back. That is one thing COVID and cancer can no longer take away from us.
The minutes tick by so slowly overnight. Interrupted only by each sigh or moan or tear which signals the need for a position change or another dose of medication, or just a comforting touch and word of reassurance.
And I show up. It’s all that I can do….
Friends don’t let friends go through the dying process alone.
“Witnessing death teaches us the precept of life. ‘Specially when someone close to our heart is the protagonist.”
“Nurses are there when the last breath is taken. Although it is more enjoyable to celebrate the birth, it is just as important to comfort in death.” -Christine Bell
“Sometimes the most important thing in a day is the rest we take between two deep breaths.