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Many members are currently caring for a loved one who is moving through their end-of-life stages. I have pondered whether or not to post this under caregiving articles or as a journal exercise for a while. This evening a dear member asked me to include it as a journal exercise so that hopefully they could prepare for the possibility of not being present when their loved one took their last breaths.
Being a 24/7 caregiver to a loved one is probably the most transformational role you may ever experience in your life time. To be doing all you do on a daily basis, to grow close, to heal and open even more to love...is hampered by the one thought that all of us hear in the background...."What if I am not there when they die?" Well, "What if?" What comes up for you? Will you be devastated? Will you suffer tremendous guilt? What feelings come up for you with these questions? I know this isn't the first time you are thinking about these questions?
I believe that one of the greatest lessons we are here to learn through the caregiving process is to live our own lives more fully. When it is the right time between our loved one and the Creator to leave, we have absolutely no control in keeping them here a minute longer....we are helpless...we are powerless in that very moment.
When my dad had less than a few months to live, there were good days as well as bad days. The bad days led us to believe that he could go at any moment ; however my father was extremely strong willed. Even during the bad times, he would look my mother and myself in the eyes and direct us both to take a break to go out for dinner...for the aid was with him and he intuitively knew he would not be dying...My mother and I were both so nervous...but he was soft and yet stern and when he directed us, we had to obey. As we would be getting ready to leave, he would say. "I promise...I will be here when you return. " This happened many, many times before he left us. Each time we would go through these exchanges. Each time he was right. He actually felt better that we went out. He knew what we were going through. What he wanted most was for us to continue living our own lives more fully.
There was only one time now as I recall, when he was in the Hospice Unit. I was starting a job and he was so excited that I was going back to work, getting on with my life. It was the first time, he didn't direct me to go home and get some rest. Instead, for the first time he said he was afraid. He asked me to help him. My mother had gone home earlier. It was late and I would have to get up early for work. I had no answers for my father in the moment. I went and asked our favorite Hospice nurse, Barbara to come in and help me support him. He was so quiet...I never saw him before like he was in these moments. The truth is my father's body started closing down slowly after I left, but rallied somewhat in the morning before I left for work. Then it happened. That dreaded phone call came to the office from the head Hospice nurse. My father's body was closing down quickly....and I rushed out of the office to be with him.
I can't tell you all the thoughts that ran through my mind. To not be with him was something I couldn't bear. You will find more of this in a previous article I wrote at: http://www.care-givers.com/pages/carearticles/movingbeyond.html Believe me, I knew all the thoughts, the guilt, the panic that I envisioned at not being present with my dad when he would take his final breaths. Fortunately, Mom and I were both with him when he breathed his last breath and to this day we are truly grateful.
In retrospect, I can honestly say, that I could have been downstairs in the cafeteria or walking outside to catch a breath of air...I could have been in the shower at home and not heard the phone ring. I could have been taking a bus cross town to visit him. There were any number of situations that could have prevailed that kept me from being with him in his final moments on this earth. You just do not have any control and what is meant to be is meant to be.
It might sound cliché to you and for this I apologize. However, I have hear innumerable stories and we have seen them in movies and heard real life stories of those who pass on immediately after their loved one leaves them. Whether this is conscious or unconscious...or if it is with a purpose...it appears that they pass specifically when the loved one leaves.
I remember when I was living in California with my husband. My parents were visiting us. On the second day of their arrival, the went to visit my dad's mother who was in a nursing home near by. My husband and I were at the chiropractor and the three of us were laughing at a magic act my husband and I had performed the night before. It was the first time in the act that I was to banish the dove and transform it into a rabbit in the finale. It was a huge audience of many well known celebrities. Earlier in the day, one of our three doves had laid an egg. There was no way of telling which dove was the female. When preparing to take two of the doves to the performance, my husband and I were baffled at which doves to take. Doves never appeared to have an extremely long life, so when one or two others previously died, I would cover the cage with a towel and wait for my husband deal with burying it. So here we are, music playing loudly and my husband produced the dove. He looked at it and from the look on his face, I knew that the dove was dead. Well, you know the show must go on so I mustered up enough courage to take the dove and hold it within both of my hands, moving them up and down so it would like like the dove was flapping his wings....and placed him in the magic box and materialized the rabbit. After the show, everyone, including my parents were hysterical at my predicament and commended me on my bravery to pull off the rest of the act. Well, right in the moment of all this laughter with the chiropractor, I broke out crying hysterically. My husband asked me what was wrong. I said, "My grandmother just died!" This was my mother's mother who was in a home in New York City.
We rushed home and there was a message on the answering machine from my aunt saying that my grandmother passed at such and such a time which was when I started crying in the doctor's office. We went to the nursing home and picked up my parents and told my mom that grandma had passed.
You must understand the background. My mom and dad were the only children they really took care of my grandmother. Mom's other siblings never could deal with visiting and caring for her. My grandmother was stable when my mom left for her visit. And right after she left New York was when my grandmother let go. There was no way that we could get back to New York for the funeral the next day. A huge ice storm had it the midwest all through the northeast and all airports and train stations, etc. were closed down from the blizzard. A psychic friend of my parents suggested we go to the mountains to a special bless to be in silence and send out our loving thoughts and prayers to her. My mom chose to go to the Krishnamurti Center in Ojai, California which is a very special place nestled amongst the eucalyptus trees etc.
The irony of it is that all my mother's siblings had to tend to the funeral and the burial. She and dad had been there for grandma all along and it was there turn to take over. My parents, my husband and I were at peace sending her loving thoughts and feeling her presence amongst us for several days. None of us held any guilt or stress...we were forced into a situation of acceptance in the moment. What was was, and we had no other choice but to make the best of it which is what we all did.
So you see, you never know what the outcome will be if you leave your loved one for a minute, an hour, a day or whatever. You cannot put your life on hold. You cannot stop living...you must surrender and let things evolve as they are meant to be. I know you understand what I am saying so I will not document this with other examples.
What I would like for you to do, is take time to still yourself in your own energies. Breathe in nice slow deep breaths. With each breath breathe in love and light and on each exhale breathe out all your worry, your doubts, your concerns....until all parts of your body are completely relaxed and you can feel your abdomen rise with each full breath and lower on each exhale.
When you are completely relaxed, permit yourself to imagine the worst that you have imagined at times prior to this exercise. See the experience unfolding as you imagined it. Let your mind drift....let yourself speak out loud to your loved one's soul....let them hear your thoughts and words of love....and allow yourself to flow with the unfolding revelations you may experience... Imagine what it would be like if you were in the car picking up a prescription for them, or just not within range as they took their last breath. What would it be and feel like to you? Would you tortue yourself with guilt? Allow you mind to take you wherever you need to go and when you feel complete come back out and write about it. Perhaps even communicate your thoughts, feelings and fears of not being present with them to your loved one...
You know in your heart the love and caring you have...let yourself be...let time reveal yourself, and know that you are in the right place at the right time for the right reasons.
Richest blessings to you.
Copyrighted Gail R. Mitchell 05/11/2000
© Copyright Gail.R. Mitchell. All rights reserved.