Sep 3, 2009

Miss Lillian Preps For Her Grand Departure

At about 1pm I got a call from the Sharon, the Director of Nurses (who has become a good and loving friend) that Miss Lillian's skin has begun to 'mottle' and that she was asking for me. Sharon's exact words were "you need to come now". These are bad signs. Skin mottling indicates that her system is no longer able to transport oxygen to the her extremities, and her blood kind of begins to 'pool' because its so sluggish. It generally happens when death is eminent (the given range would be: 24 to 48 hours to 1 week).

What amazes me is that she is very aware of what's taking place. She feels herself leaving, and I wish I could have some glimmer of understanding of what that's like; but that would be like flipping to the last page of a book.

So when I arrived here at 'the home', (which has become my second home) she was serene and quiet. This is NOT her normal state, as some of you may know. I always greet her with "what up?"...instead of her usual snarky and generally inappropriate Sassy Southern Lady reply
she said; "I'm dying... and I'm so tired." I asked her if there was anything on her mind...anything she wanted to take care of. She wanted to make phone calls. This I can do.

Today has been spent doing the thing that I consistenely harangue and annoy you folks to do...letting people know that they are loved; saying what matters to those who matter.

We called Mr. Newby, the man who has been her close friend for many years, and who (I found out about 10 years ago) has been in love with her since 1946, but was man enough to let it be. She said goodbye to my sister, who is unable to be here - that was a hard one to sit in on
- and made us promise to take care of each other. And then one by one, the relatives started to file in.

We are a loud and raucus bunch; with the exception of yours truly, the women all sound like Reba McIntyre, and the men tend to sound like Tommy Lee Jones (as Doolittle Lynn in "Coalminer's Daughter").  Mourning isn't their style - these people are ALL about the funny;
sharing memories and ridiculous impressions of those memories is how they roll.

And yes, I am taking notes and the book will be forthcoming.

Anyway, as we were caught up in the business and nonsense associated with Miss Lillian's signing off; not one of us had noticed or commented on the fact that the staff had quietly removed her roomate (bed and all) and rolled in a cart with cookies, snacks, cups, flatware, sodas and coffee. The recliner that I sleep in when I'm here had been moved to a more open area of the room and had been stocked with a fresh pillow and blanket. A few more chairs appeared.

Now, the whole time I've been here, I've made sure to keep my 'clinically competent person' hat on. It makes it much easier to deal with the awful parts, the sleep deprivation, and witnessing the indignity of aging. But when one of the nurses came to me and asked me if there was anything else she could do for 'daughter' hat appeared and I promptly burst into tears. Kindness does that to me.

Then we celebrated.

I stood back and marveled at how easy it is to forget that in the end, all we have is each other. I also discovered that forgiveness is easier than you think - you just have to take a baby step. Baby steps feel really good. To say that ML and I have had a difficult relationship would be a gross understatement. But in the end, we are the sum of our experiences, and in dealing with others we would be well served to remind ourselves of that - and then take inventory of
how we let our experiences shape us. In the end, we experience fear, no matter how tough we think we are. That has to be met with compassion as well.

So...after all that yammering (and thanks for getting this far) what did I learn about death and dying?
It can create close bonds, as well as belly laughs, and can reveal strength you didn't think you were capable of. That as we leave this part of the journey in preparation for the next part, we are similar to the way we were when we arrived.

I also learned that I'd better get my shit together and let SOMEONE know what song I want played at my funeral!! ('In This Life' by Collin Raye, in the event someone is taking notes). This began as a serious discussion and degerated into 'if Lillian were a country song, what would her lyrics be?'... we were like a bunch of frat boys who'd had a bit too much moonshine. One of the staff came and "shhhh'd" us.

In the time it has taken to write this she has gone from labored breathing to barely visibly breathing. I'm thankful for my Blackberry, but my thumbs are tired. Most important, I'm thankful that this is nearly over for her, and for the gift of experience...even the scary parts.

So...I've said it before, and I'm fully aware that I sound like a broken record, so let the eyeballing commence.

Say the words. Express gratitude. Hug a stranger (if you're in Tennessee it's a requirement. If you're in LA a pat on the arm will do). Write a letter (not an email) to someone you miss. Tell them that you miss them; that you just want to know they're ok. Love the unloveable. Like those baby steps I mentioned - it feels really good.

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