I was in the front office this morning talking to Pattie the lady who helps keep things in order in the administration department. I went over to see if they needed supplies for the upcoming week. She told me that because of the weather, there was no need to get anything for them this week. She has the mostly beautiful dog, a small one, with long fur that is off white with streaks of grey, that stays in the office with her…..yet it is house broken. I tease the dog and call it a rat and she just looks at me and wags her tail, wanting more attention. The dog is about a year old now and is good for Pattie, since she just lost her husband to cancer a few months ago. She is adapting, but it is of course still difficult. So the dog is good company and also has a very positive link with Michael her deceased husband.

As we were talking, Angie came by (she said I could use her real name) and we talked a bit about her father who is ailing, elderly and seems to be near death. It is very difficult for Angie, for they are a close knit family and her father was one of those really good ones and has always had a good relationship with his daughter. He is at that stage of life where the chess pieces are getting less and every move taken to help keep him alive means that he has to sacrifice another piece from the playing board. There comes a time when medicines becomes a two edged sword; both keeping the taker alive but also doing some damage elsewhere. For instance if strong doses of a diuretic is needed, it will stave off congestive heart failure for awhile, but can also do damage to the kidneys. Also the loss of independence, no matter what age, if the mind is still intact (which is the case here), then that can compound the struggle and insuring suffering for everyone.

Angie’s father is a large man, and his wife is taking care of him. They have a good marriage and love each other very much; so putting him in a home is out of the question. So he is home and the mother is getting little if any real rest; which being in her late 80s could be serious. Caregivers at times die before the one they are caring for; stress being a contributing factor, that comes from the responsibility of taking care of a loved one. Yet, I can certainly understand this desire to take care of loved ones. So as we talked I gave Angie some ideas about what products to use and other tricks I have learned over the years to make the job a little easier. Angie also may have to quit her job (which from what she told me will still be there when she wants to return) in order to help her mom out. Yes a very close knit family.

All the books on dealing with the process of the death of loved ones recommend that the parties be honest with one another about death and how close it is. In real life however this can be a little more complicated. The father wants to live, does not want to leave his beloved wife of over 60 years and Angie’s mother will not talk about death with her husband. So I think he wants to hold on to protect her and she does not want to talk about death because it may disturb her husband. So I did not push the talking aspect at all, each family has to deal with this kind of situation the best way they know how. Later if Angie talks with me again about it, I might recommend talking about it more openly amongst family members.

After a while she started crying for the pain was too much for her. Talking about her father this way takes a toll on her. She apologized to me about the tears and I said that they are actually good. “I have to be strong” she said, so I responded, “well perhaps for your parents when you are with them, but now, away from them, crying is good”. Her family has never talked about death, so I think it makes things more difficult, especially since this is such a loving, close knit family.

They have strong faith, but while faith can give some comfort, in the end, the more one loves the more painful the separation that will eventually come. She knows that her mother will not live long after her father dies, for she herself, is in poor health and elderly. The father is hanging on because of love and the mother could literally work herself to death because her love is so deep, that she wants to be the main caregiver.

Endings are inevitable; we know this on a certain level, but often will not allow ourselves to dwell on it and for good reason. There is price to be paid for loving. One that is well worth the suffering, for what would life be without love and caring, in the giving and the receiving…..I think it would be dark indeed.

Faith can give comfort, but the inner void, the absence of a relationship that will never be renewed in this life, does not allow us to bypass the mourning that is part and parcel of any relationship that is worthwhile.

Before we left, she gave me a quick hug and had to leave for work. People are brave and strong, more than they realize, for I believe that we are wonderfully made, works of art in the making and hard as it may be to embrace, suffering and loss are an important part of that journey. I have lost my parents, a common occurrence which does not diminish the pain. I have many brothers and sisters and in the end, one of us will have to endure the death of all the others. Yet, it is worth it, for I love all my brothers and sisters and gladly embrace the suffering that I will go through as they pass one by one through that dark gate. Well perhaps not, for I could be the first. There are few certainties in life, but death is one of those few. The time and place and the how are thankfully hidden from our eyes.

Mark Dohle

Mark Dohle

I am 62 years old and have lived in the Atlanta area since 1971.  I am Catholic and my faith is important to me, yet as I age the mystery continues to deepen, so I read broadly and try to keep things somewhat open ended. I work with the aged and the dying. I was in the Navy for four years and I guess I am life of center when it comes to politics, but not too far left. Actually, I am kind of a political moron.

I am the third of  11 children; ten still alive, one died in in 1958, three days after birth.

One Comment
  1. What a lovely and gentle reminder that death remains woven inextricably into the fabric of our lives, that love and its inevitable companion loss are the essence of our humanity. Thank you.

Comments are closed.