Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Dichotomy in Death

No, Dichotomy in Death isn't the newest JD Robb futuristic thriller.  It's the subject of a discussion I've been having on and off via text all day with one of my friends.  Her grandma just died.  Today marks 4 weeks since mine had her (ultimately fatal) stroke (tomorrow is the 4 week anniversary of her death) so death and dead grandmas are still a sensitive subject for me.
My friend's grandma came to death via a different path than mine.  She had cancer and supposedly had it beat, but then she started acting strangely, as if she had some dementia starting.  My friend's mom thought that the cancer had metastasized to her brain.  She started to lose weight at an alarming rate because she stopped eating.  A couple of days ago, they had to bring a hospice nurse into her home (she lived with one of her children) because she was too sick and weak to be moved to a facility, and now she's gone.
And my friend is facing the same quandary that we went through with my dad and my grandma.  That you love someone, and wish she would stay with you forever.  That's the selfish part, of course, because at the same time, this person you love is sick and suffering and in pain.  You want the pain to end for both your sakes.  So you feel bad for wanting the person to die, and selfish for wanting them not to die.
But when the pain inevitably ends in death, you continue to feel horrible.  Because you are glad the pain is over and the suffering has stopped.  And you are sad, so sad, that your loved one is gone.
And of course my friend had the other side of the coin in a different way.  She had a few days to say goodbye to her grandma and know her grandma heard and acknowledged it for what it was.  My grandma was gone when I said goodbye.  Maybe her spirit was hovering in that hospital room and heard but I don't think so--it fled the night before, trying to fulfill my mom's wish to find her mother dead peacefully in bed.  And with my dad, well, from day to day we never knew if he really understood who we were and we didn't know when if ever he'd die so how to say goodbye in that case?  The last time I saw him, about 15 hours before he died, I told him to go and said goodbye but he was so far gone, stage 4 Alzheimer's, brain damage, MRSA burning through him out of control, that he didn't know.  He didn't hear me either. 
That's why I can't be an atheist.  People have to go somewhere. If energy can't be created or destroyed, they have to be around in some form.  They have to know their children and grandchildren and loved ones have conflicting feelings about their deaths.  They have to still be here.  Otherwise, what is the point?

Saturday, March 03, 2012

it's nice to be appreciated...

It included a code for a prize.  I got a filtered water bottle.  Not sure if it will be Alzheimer's Association branded or not but it was a nice gesture.  I didn't expect anything, honestly.

Friday, March 02, 2012

sometimes death is okay

I've had a couple of weeks to think about my grandma dying and I've had to tell a lot of people.  And I've found that their sympathy is almost unwanted because the more I think about it, the more it's okay that she died.  It's not that I don't miss her--for instance, today I saw a friend of mine; he's an artist who is helping me with my next book.  His boyfriend is some kind of cousin of mine. I was going to ask some questions about my "cousin's" family to figure out the exact connection and then I realized that it was useless as my grandma was the one who would have known how to figure it out.
It's weird to visit my mom and her house is empty and quiet, no loud TV, no running water and flushing toilet.  It's even weirder for my mom, who never lived alone before.  We went through Grandma's things and I felt like a ghoul every time I wanted something. I took a doily she made, some plastic storage containers, and a potted cactus plant that belonged to my grandpa.  I'm selling her furniture on Craigslist.  My mom gave away all the extra afghans my grandma had made to a nursing home, and also gave them her collection of canes.  Her decent clothing went to a local place that helps homeless people.
And it's all good. I don't understand hoarders, who when someone dies clutches all their things tightly.  My grandma loved to give away her afghans.  To keep them (and not use them) would be disrespectful.  To know that someone is warm because she is wearing my grandma's jacket or sweater makes me feel good. My dad's clothes went to charity too.  I kept one shirt, a green one he really liked.  I don't need 12 garbage bags of clothes and stuff to remember my grandma and dad, and having those 12 bags wouldn't make the memories I have any better.  This blog is a much better resource and it only takes up cyberspace, not closet space. 
It is okay that my grandma died, for a few reasons.  She was, basically, 94.  She was fairly healthy and dementia free.  And she chose the method of her death by not taking her medicine.  Only the very last day, maybe not even 24 hours, were "bad" in the sense that she'd had the massive stroke and yet not died yet, but since she was gone (brain dead) that barely even counts.  When I tell people that, they are okay with it too.
And then I think of my dad.  It was beyond okay when he died, it was good, it was a blessing, but it was still wrong He was only 67.  He never enjoyed his retirement.  His last 6 weeks he was in agony, just far enough from being a vegetable to be in pain.  His death was a relief, a release, for all of us, and in that way it was also okay.  But in the bigger scheme of things, a man barely in his 60's should not have dementia, he shouldn't go from diagnosis to death in barely 4 years, he shouldn't brutalize his wife and forget his daughter and forget how to talk and how to read.  There is nothing that is okay about early onset Alzheimer's (or any kind of dementia).
People who don't have a loved one with dementia cannot understand how the families of patients, toward the end, pray for death.  They think they would never ever wish for someone they loved to die. (They probably haven't seen end-stage cancer either, in that case.)  People who have been there, done that, we all just nod and say, "it's okay to feel relieved.  I get it."
The day my grandma had her final stroke, news came out about a cancer drug that reverses Alzheimer's like symptoms in mice.  I try to remain hopeful, because someday I might need that drug.  I don't want the final entry in this blog to be about how it was okay for ME to die.  But perhaps someday that will be the case.

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I'm a finalist.  Up to the judges whether I win or not now.