I recently had a very short, intense, caregiving experience. It was Thursday morning, July 27th, and my mother’s husband, whose health had been slowly declining for years, woke panicked and gasping for breath. She asked him if he wanted her to call 911. He nodded emphatically.
A whirl of sirens and red lights whisked him away and my 82-year-old mother drove to the hospital dazed and scared. The emergency room doctors noted his frail body, low blood pressure, and severe dehydration—it had been days since he’d eaten more than a spoonful or taken more than a sip of water. But this time, they did not rush to rehydrate him. They took no life-saving measures at all. Instead, they called Hospice.
Another whirl, as Hospice, swooped in. A hospital bed set up in the bedroom. Introductions to the on-call nurse and caregivers. Folders of information on what to expect. And meds—anti-anxiety and morphine. The Hospice phone number was on the refrigerator, and she was told she could call it anytime. Then they left.
I flew down to California the next morning to help her, and he died peacefully just two days later. It was an extremely difficult couple of days, mentally and physically, as we tried to care for him and keep him comfortable while his body rapidly failed. It doesn’t matter how many articles I’ve read about caregiving, none could have prepared me for that experience. I’ve described it as horrendous. And it was a gift too—to be able to be with my mother, and help her care for her loved one at his end.
My mother had been his caregiver for years. I saw how it wore on her and aged her. She is now experiencing both loss and relief, and all the mixed emotions and guilt that comes with it. But as deaths go, it was a good death.
The medical establishment is slowly starting to change. The prolong-a-life-at-all-costs mentality is shifting, and doctors are beginning to recognize us as mortal beings where quality, not quantity, is what really matters.