By Michelleanne Bradley
We are of a nature to grow old; we cannot escape old age.
We are of a nature to get sick; we cannot escape sickness. We are of a nature to die; we cannot escape death. All that is dear to us and everyone we love are of the nature to change; there is no way to escape being separated from them. We inherit the results of my actions of body, speech, and mind; our actions are our continuation.
These five remembrances vibrated through my body as I carried on through the last days with Dad and negotiated the mine field that had become of the rest of the world for us.
Things I got in trouble for when I went back to watch my father die:
1. not ironing my shirt (it was linen, it wrinkles as soon as I moved, and who really cares?).
2. Losing my entire mind that someone who my father did not like (none of the rest of us liked her either), who did not like my father, and was a pro at making scenes would be going to the funeral because she was “family” (she was not really).
3. Cutting off medical professionals who kept asking us if we were sure that we wanted to go the comfort/palliative care route on the way to hospice…yeah, we were sure.
4. Saying out loud to same medical staff that if he were a dog, we would have put him down so he would not suffer (that one was not a winner with mom AT ALL…later she told my brother that she thought I was right).
5. Asking the medical team to give him morphine every two hours as had been prescribed, and skip the PRN piece, just keep giving it to him (WTF? Were they worried he was going to get addicted?).
6. Laughing when a hospital Catholic priest chaplain introduced himself as Father Innocent (I did walk away immediately because I was under a lot of stress, I did not have a poker face and I have no filter on my best days). I am sure that there were more, but those really were the tops.
I did A Year to Live practice in 2016, which invites us to live for a year as if it were our last.
I learned a great deal about my own choices and where I was at that time, and where I wanted to be. I started the practice when I had just left my corporate job and was on the verge of starting my own consulting company. I did the practice with a group, led by one of my very favorite Dharma teachers, Mary Stancavage.
We met each month, which held us accountable to the others in our practice. I am still friends with many of the people with whom I shared that year. A big part of the practice is what you are attached to that no longer serves, which included physical possessions, relationships and jobs.
I had tried to have conversations with my parents around this time about what they wanted their end of life to look like. The one thing that we agreed on was that none of us wanted to be kept on life support. Well, Dad and I agreed, but Mom kept saying, “what if something can be done?” which is why she is not my medical power of attorney. If I cannot sit up and feed myself, pull the plug, any donatable organs and tissue will not stay fresh for long. I am already gone; someone else can use my parts that they may live.
My mom continued to stay with her friend, and my brother and I went back to the house each night. We watched movies and talked a lot about how all of this was going down. We were grateful that we didn’t need to have the conversations with Dad about that he couldn’t drive anymore (we did that with our grandfather, and it did not go well—Dad would be at least 1000 times worse).
We thought we would have at least another 10 years before we were facing this with Dad. Our whole lives, we knew people who had lost parents, grandparents, siblings, children, partners, and close friends. I always felt like we were super lucky because not only had our parents stayed together and were a great example of a partnership, but our family lived for a very long time.
This was a giant gut punch.
I had often thought about moving back to the area so that I could be closer and could take care of them. I beat myself up a lot about that part. I had lived a big life outside of there, I became the person I wanted to be since I left, and while I had great friends there, I had also become very accustomed to a more temperate climate and an easier damn life.
When I first moved from Syracuse, I was most terrified to tell my great-grandmother that I was leaving. I had cousins tell me that I should stay at least until she died, even though they had moved a few hours away themselves. She was the one who most encouraged me to go, telling me to see the world and make a great life for myself.
She lived for another eight years.
I had finished university and built a whole new world for myself by the time she died. Over the years when I talked about moving back, Mom discouraged me from coming back. She would tell me crazy (and true) stories of what was going on with the family to remind me to stay where I was and keep going.
Please think about what it is that you want for your end-of-life care. Write that shit down, get it notarized, get it witnessed, and be super specific and clear as possible. We have a very shitty system for dealing with end of life, which really goes hand in hand with our super shitty medical and insurance system.
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