My Dearest Darling.
We recently discussed my parents. When we did I mentioned how I missed my mother. I have recounted her demise to you over the phone but a little over two months after she died I embarked on a solo trip around Australia which included the first Mother’s Day I had not been with her. I have another, now inactive blog, which chronicled that trip. Below is the only post I wrote that wasn’t published. This is the first time I have read it in eighteen months and the emotion is still quite raw. It does however best describe how I miss my mother.
It’s quite a sad day for me today, my first Mother’s Day without mum. In late January of 2012, I spent 4 days at a mountain lodge near the Barrington Tops in rural New South Wales, Australia. I drank too much wine and whisky and just vegged out. On the day of my return I found that my 89 year old mother had suffered a fall and needed to be hospitalised. I put her in the local hospital on Friday 27th January 2012 and she died in the early hours of Wednesday 8th February 2012, 4 days short of her 90th birthday. I went from organising her birthday party to organising her funeral.
Mum suffered from dementia, which a hideous disease that wastes the brain. In the end she could do very little for herself and even lost the ability to speak. It was abundantly clear that she wasn’t well when I returned from my break. Watching your own mother waste away in a sterile hospital has nothing to commend it. She fought the process the whole way. She kicked and abused the ambulance officers, the nurses, the doctors and the other staff. I was the worst son in the world for subjecting her to all of this. I think she said to me in a moment of lucidity that she hoped I had daughters, implying that sons were no good at all. It quickly became evident that there were no meaningful treatment options and that all we could do was make her comfortable and manage the pain.
“Managing the Pain” became the new mantra. When it comes to someone’s death the staff at the hospital can’t come out and say it, but in effect it is their code for euthanasia. In the circumstances and when carried out ethically it is something that I fully support. Now my mother was against euthanasia, we had discussed it at length on a number of occasions. In particular we discussed it in relation to my dad (who had died 8 years earlier). So I knew she wanted to fight. But, when there were no meaningful treatment options available “managing the pain” became the only option. When presented with “suffer and die slowly with pain” or “suffer and die a little faster but with managed pain” it really ceases to be a choice. No one actually tells you that “managing the pain” is essentially medicating someone to death, you have to figure that out for yourself. And even when you have it figured it is still up to the individual hospital staff to participate in this secret society. Some would not partake at all. One quite literally told me that they would “let nature take it’s course.” Others could be described as being more proactive.
My mother started refusing all food and drink, which was hideous to watch. I learnt at this time that tube feeding someone was not really an option. Apparently it stops the body from producing the endorphins it needs to manage its own pain and causes agony to the patient. There was however one nurse (who had worked in a dementia facility in Adelaide) she was excellent. She actually managed to get mum to eat small amounts of food (a teaspoon of puréed fruit is what I mean by small). However it was a futile effort, my mother had decided to check out. About four days before she died she got significantly worse. She was moved into a private room at the end of a ward. They had done the same thing with dad. He was moved into the “dying room” and it was in mum’s dying room that I now ate, showered and slept. Mum became totally vegetative only moving when the nurses turned her as part of their schedule. All the while (depending on the vagaries of the staff) we continued to “manage the pain.”
The last hours of her life were spent with her gasping for breath. She emitted this most hideous rasp; it is one of the most sickening sounds I have ever heard. It was once described to me as a “death rattle” but until I had heard myself I didn’t truly understand what was meant. In this last hour the senior nursing staff were of the “nature takes it course” school of thought. But after 40 minutes of mum’s sickening breathing I had to do something, I buzzed for help and blessedly there had been a change in shift (you can lose track of time when you move into hospital.) The new nursing staff came in and saw (and heard) my mother’s condition. She was clearly in great distress and a lot of pain. The more senior of the two looked me in the eye and said she could “manage the pain.” She said it in a way that conveyed a far greater meaning than just the words. Five minutes later, as I was stroking my mother’s hair, holding her hand and telling her that I loved her, she died. The pain had been managed and I had become an orphan. I miss my mother terribly but there is no way I would have her back in anything like the condition she was in. It was her time. I cannot thank the staff at the hospital enough for their compassion and understanding.
Happy Mother’s Day Mum.
So there you have it my Darling. I did it all alone and made the most hideous yet most compassionate decision of my life.
You Will Always Be My Darling
From Sir With Love
My Dear Compassionate Sir,
This makes my heart ache for you. I know how much you loved your mother, and I know how much your mother adored you. I am so sorry you went through this alone. I am sorry I wasn’t there for you. I would have stood by your side and helped. You would not have carried that burden alone.
I loved your mother too. I truly did. She was your mother, and I thank her for you. I am happy to say I knew her.
I don’t equate pain management as euthanasia especially when that person is having their last moments on Earth. I think the medication just took away her pain and allowed her to pass into the next life peacefully. You were and are a superior son.
I love you.
©2013 Darling and Sir