Saturday, April 13, 2013
Waiting On Death II
Part II of this Blog Trilogy on Waiting On Death was first written 17 months ago as we waited in the Defiance, Ohio hospice facility for the second time in six months. The first time was in April of 2011 when Dorothy's father, Jim Machunas, died after being there just three hours. This time we were there for Dorothy's mother, Leona. We had a third occasion to benefit from the ministry of this hospice in August of 2012 when our beautiful and wonderful sister-in-law, Judy Machunas, passed away after a two year courageous battle with bile duct cancer.
I wrote this reflection on Monday, November 7, 2011, a few weeks after Leona's death:
"Waiting for death. Not mine - my mother-in-law's. It know it sounds like I'm getting ready to share a nasty mother-in-law joke, but I assure you that is not the situation. The thought ran through my head as I sat with my wife, Dorothy, and her siblings in the Defiance Hospice facility a few weeks ago.
"Leona Vennekotter Machunas, Dorothy's 90 year-old mom, fell on Wednesday, October 19 in her home of 66 years. She was able to successfully push her wrist Lifeline button thus alerting them to contact those on the call list; which they were able to do, locating her daughter-in-law, Judy, who lives in the neighboring house about 150 yards away. We received a call at our home in Columbus informing us of the fall and of her being transported to the Defiance Clinic. While we waited for an update, Dorothy began to pick up the house and pack some things for a possible trip to northwestern Ohio.
"Daughter Susie and son, Bob, were already at the Clinic waiting when the ambulance arrived. Shortly after Leona arrived at the Clinic she was taken for x-rays. Seeing the knot on her head and the blood the technician decided to take a picture of her head first. Despite her being in obvious pain in her shoulder/arm area they immediately transported her back to the ER because a bleed in the head was noted and they knew they had to treat that quickly. Upon returning to the ER they asked if she had a Living Will. Susie and Bob assured them she did and that she would not want them to proceed with treatment. Thus, the decision was made to transfer her to the hospice facility for the inevitable. That's when we received the second call and immediately jumped in the van for the 2 1/2 hour trip in a driving rain.
Leona was still at the Clinic when we arrived and so Dorothy was able to ride in the ambulance with her when she was transported to the hospice facility. We all gathered that first night believing she would be gone in a few hours. Several of the grandchildren came to the facility to see their grandmother for what they and we all thought would be the last time. After several hours it became obvious that it wasn't going to happen as soon as we thought. So, three of her adult children began to make plans to spend the night. (Her youngest son, Tom, had ankle surgery the day before and was unable to come to the facility.) The rest of us went home. I went with brother-in-law, Gary, to their nearby home in Defiance.
The next day we had conversations with a somewhat alert woman. Word spread and other family members and friends stopped to see her on Friday and Saturday. While she looked really bad because of the knot on her head and the black and bluing in the face still she greeted folks with a smile and some conversation.
I'm not going to try and recall the hour by hour, day by day experience. Instead, let me simply note that what we thought would be a few hours of unwanted waiting turned into five and a half days of unpleasant, as well as unwanted, waiting for a body that wasn't ready to stop living quit functioning so that death could result.
More than once during those days the knowledgeable and experienced and caring hospice staff shared that they thought she would be gone by the end of their shift. More than once I offered a well-intentioned prayer of release believing the end to be near. We experts were no match for her determined physical body. It was nature's reality that was the determiner and not our wishes or God's mercy or grace. We were waiting for death, first reluctantly but finally wishfully and longingly - not wanting to see her suffer any more."
That's all I wrote then. Today I would add:
So much more happened that one day short of a week we waited on death to arrive and add its mixture of depth, pain, peace, and relief. There were indeed the friends and family members who stopped and visited with us and her, even after she could no longer respond with words. Their words of encouragement and comfort, stories of past good times brought laughter and tears - early sources of healing even before the final passing. People were willing to stare death in the face because of their relationship and love for Leona, us, and one another.
Death did finally come - it just took longer than was anticipated. That wasn't all bad though. This time of reflecting about the experience of waiting on death when Leona was dying awakened in me a sense that it was a part of what I am doing because of my own health reality as well. But, that's Part III.