Way to Go.

November 5, 2010 at 10:48 pm (By Amba)

I had a peaceful day with J today.  Stopped pushing him to drink and eat and swallow medication-laced applesauce.  If he was through with all that, okay.  He knows what he’s doing.

He slept most of the day but to my surprise wanted a little water — three swallows — in the morning and again in the evening, and three teaspoons of coffee ice cream in the afternoon.  The hospice nurse told me dementia patients can sometimes go on like this for months.  He seemed much happier and more comfortable not being nagged and force-fed.  He basked in his favorite Errol Garner CD with a few blurry but familiar exclamations and sighs of savoring.

Our friend Axel the hospice volunteer, who usually comes on Fridays, offered to come over, but I told him we were okay.  I had work to do (yay!), and a workout that was overdue, and I figured he had things to do, too.  He was over on J’s good day a week ago, and J hadn’t said much but reached out to touch his face affectionately, which was very . . . touching.  I wasn’t sure whether or not he would have responded to Axel’s presence today.

And I was practicing being alone.  I might as well get used to it.  After all, in a way I’ve craved it.  And been frightened of it.  And it was easier than I thought.  J slept and slept; I made lentil soup and talked to the cats and started the CD over again whenever it ended.

Then our karate friends called and said they’d come over for dinner.  I got in my workout before they arrived.  J woke up enough to greet them quite sociably, with a sort of drunken bonhomie.  Then he sank back into his half-asleep jazz bliss, cheeks sunken and mouth open in that hollow O of the demented and the dying.  It was okay:  a part of life, the rounding-off.  We dragged a couple of little tables into the bedroom and sat there and ate, told stories, and laughed within his sight (if he cared to open his eyes) and hearing.

I thought:  Yes!  This is how we’re supposed to die:  with life going on all around us.

(Right.  He’s not dying, yet, tonight or tomorrow or even next week.  But he’s started on the way, and very peacefully, so far.  Will it stay that way?

Meanwhile, my New York subtenant called:  the landlord has sent me a renewal lease!  If I wasn’t back, my tenancy was supposed to end this coming February, but the lease-renewal department may be operating on automatic pilot.  Or the recently cured case of bedbugs, which the landlord is legally required to disclose, may have cooled their zeal to deregulate the apartment.  Whatever — if I sign the lease and they countersign it, that’s two more years.  If they question it, I can tell them I’m coming back.  My subtenant won’t have to leave, and I won’t have to decide, by February.

This is good.)


  1. Emilie Babcox said,

    A very touching and profound post. Thanks for sharing this, news of the “rounding-off” part of life we all worry about.

  2. Melinda said,

    Way to go…the “Old Country” way. Glad it’s been peaceful so far, hope it stays that way, and glad you’re able to keep your NYC apartment.

    Feel free to keep updating us with these eloquent accountings. Between these and my July 2007 posts, we could be spearheading a trend in Deathblogging.

  3. amba12 said,

    Thank you, Emilie, for writing, especially since it allowed me to discover your blog.

    Melinda, I remember those posts vividly. You may just have coined a tag . . .

  4. wj said,

    “The Old Country Way” indeed — at home surrounded by family and friends. Sometimes, it is the last thing we can do for those we love.

    God bless, Annie.

  5. realpc said,

    It’s wonderful that you are there with him all the time.

  6. A said,

    I’m grateful you’re having peaceful moments in this transition, and that the NY apartment isn’t
    pressing a decision—and also for the introduction to Emilie’s blog, from which I just gleaned this gentle quote: “patience with others is love, patience with self is hope, patience with God is faith.” I’m agnostic but still like the first two.

  7. amba12 said,

    He is taking in small amounts of ice cream and fruit juice. Funny, ice cream used to cause him coughing problems and now, for the same reason — because it’s a solid that turns to a liquid — it’s the only thing he can easily swallow.

  8. Peter Hoh said,

    Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but it seems as though J bounced back from the bout of shingles in order to do this on his own terms.

  9. amba12 said,

    I don’t know, but the sentence “He knows what he’s doing” keeps coming back to me.

    Meanwhile, I now have something to look forward to in my last weeks of life: living on ice cream! Nature’s most nearly perfect food!

  10. realpc920 said,

    I definitely agree about ice cream. And I definitely think J has more awareness than it seems. I think the subconscious mind, the higher self, whatever all those things might be, are not affected by physical disabilities or dementia. The mind is always there, it just might not be able to control the brain in order to communicate.

  11. Bill Rogers said,

    Beginning 11-8-10, as I put the coffee on each morning, I will be thinking of you and your vigil. This entry reminded of these poetic reflections:
    Poem: “Bedside Manners” by Christopher Wiseman from In John Updike’s Room.

    Bedside Manners

    How little the dying seem to need—
    A drink perhaps, a little food,
    A smile, a hand to hold, medication,
    A change of clothes, an unspoken
    Understanding about what’s happening.
    You think it would be more, much more,
    Something more difficult for us
    To help with in this great disruption,
    But perhaps it’s because as the huge shape
    Rears up higher and darker each hour
    They are anxious that we should see it too
    And try to show us with a hand-squeeze.

    Your elderly friend in Charlotte, NC

  12. amba12 said,

    That’s stunningly on the mark, Bill. Thank you.

    But there’s something else too. I noticed this when we were with J’s mother when she died. Death is very strange (as strange as birth) but it’s also familiar. After all, we’ve been doing it in our various forms for millions of years.

  13. Melinda said,

    That poem reminds me of what the nursing sister said at St. Rose’s when I asked if there was anything I should do.

    “Honey, what he has to go through right now is between him and God.”

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