Grappling with the Past

I woke up thinking about my mom this morning. Actually…I woke up thinking about everything I did wrong with Mom during the last two years of her life.

I just began training to be a hospice volunteer. Much of our homework is reading about dying and watching videos about hospice care as well as the dying process. In just two weeks I’ve learned a lot about what actively dying looks like (which I witnessed with Mom) as well as what all of the signs actually mean. For instance, when someone seems agitated as they are going through the dying process, the person could have a full bladder, could be in pain, or maybe the music being played in the room reminds them of a particularly bad time in their lives.

I was with both of my parents as they lay dying. Much of the literature and information I’m consuming reflect my own experiences. Stories of people dying who talk to a dead loved one or reach out to something that you can’t see. (Dad saw his grandfather.) Stories of people dying after their spouse leaves the room or once their adult child finally made it to the hospital after they flew across the country to see them one more time. (Mom died less than 5 minutes after I left the room. My sister said it was because she was trying to protect me one last time.) As I work through the coursework, I feel like this is all in my wheelhouse–bereavement, dying, extensive grief, hospice care–these actions and feelings have defined my life for the past five years. I feel like I’m ready to listen to others now and be present for those families that are suffering and for that person in hospice care. And to be honest? Although I’ve set some boundaries in my life, I know at some point I may need to be my husband’s caregiver as he continues his congestive heart failure journey. That journey may end in hospice care. I want to be prepared and help him prepare for what that involves.

This morning, I started to doubt my hospice volunteer readiness. I watched two hours of videos yesterday about the dying process and Mom’s birthday is in two days, so of course she’s on my mind. But I felt sick thinking about Mom being in the memory care unit of the nursing home. I know she had many, many good days there, and I know I was not able to take care of her. (I tried but was not successful.) But what about once she went into hospice care? Why didn’t I bring her home? Could I have taken a leave of absence and taken care of her here? Would she still have died just three weeks after she went into hospice care, or maybe she would have lived longer?

I’ve been doing exactly what I tell people not to do. I have no idea how things could have been. She could have died sooner, or what if she lived even longer? Could I really have afforded to take a leave of absence? (I already know the answer is “no.” And if you’re one of those people who say, “If that was my mother, I would have stayed home with her,” then congratulations to you for not living paycheck to paycheck.)

Don’t second guess yourself, I tell people. I want to say I did the best I could with what I had, but I’m not sure that’s true. Tomorrow I may feel differently. I may be ok with how it all went down.

But today I’m struggling.

4 thoughts on “Grappling with the Past

  1. Oh Hol! This breaks my heart! Why do we always have nagging feelings of guilt even when deep down we know we did the best we could under the circumstances we found ourselves in? I’m pretty dang sure your parents saw your sacrifices and how hard you tried to serve them even while trying to maintain and help your own family. How do we let go of feelings of inadequacy? I have no idea. It seems even when we live and do as much as we can for others, there are always regrets. I love you Hol and I know your parent’s appreciated your big heart.

    • Thanks, Nichole. You’re probably right, but man, I wish I could have talked to Mom more before her death. There were just so many things she couldn’t verbalize with Alzheimer’s, or maybe she did and I didn’t understand. But I do know she loved me and appreciated me. I have to keep remembering that.

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