My husband and I are currently watching American Gods, a new TV show based on a Neil Gaiman book. One of the characters (my apologies for the early-on spoiler), is the deceased wife of the main character, who has been accidentally and magically reanimated. She is told that even though she’s up walking around, she is still dead, and will decompose, albeit at a slightly delayed rate, all the while being fully aware of the process.
Since it’s been raining here for over a week, and we have seen very little of the sun, and my emotional batteries of resilience are almost totally solar-powered, my thoughts are currently set to less-than-cheerful.
My morning coffee facilitates my daily resurrection process. This morning it dawned on me (get it? dawned? ha!) through the lens of tending to my elderly mother, and living in my own middle-aged body, that we are all enchantedly animated meat, experiencing our gradual decay through the (thankfully) additional magical element of time dilation, so that we can, for the most part, ignore it in our day-to-day lives. For the most part.
Ever since Mom’s heart attack last spring, I’ve been reading more books on caregiving, dementia, and death and dying. The montage above shows what I’ve read on this topic over the past 10 months. I feel like since it’s my responsibility to keep her as happy and healthy as possible and make sure she has the best life available to her at present (the always, ever present – now…and now…and now), I have to also be sure that I can recognize when it becomes time for more difficult choices.
Final Gifts was very interesting. It was written by people experienced in hospice care and talks about the ways a person might try to let the family know that death is near, sometimes in coded statements that the family may not understand until after the fact. One example was with a parent who had been an avid traveler before being stricken with cancer. In what turned out to be his last few days, he spoke of needing to be sure his bags were packed. Family members thought he was delirious, but the hospice worker pointed out that he might be trying to let them know that he was getting ready for his last big journey. Not that the dying mean to talk in code, just that they sometimes do. As far as I can tell, Mom is not currently trying to give me coded messages.
When A Family Member Has Dementia: Steps to Becoming a Resilient Caregiver was probably the most helpful. Rather than recommendations for hands-on helping techniques (which I’ve kinda got a handle on after nine years at this), it focuses more on the ways a caregiver can find strength and hope in what often seems a hopeless situation through reframing and conscious, deliberate self-care. Mom has always been a master at reframing, even though I would guess that she’s never heard that word in her life. It’s a very valuable life skill I’m happy she was able to pass down to me early on.
Fear of dying, as our experiences with end-of-life conditions have become more medicalized and often carried far past the point of compassion or utility.
How different spiritual traditions address care for a deceased loved one, and how America’s move away from religion and church-going has left many without any of these traditions to cope with their grief and loss.
Ways to think about our own lives to help us overcome that fear of death
How overcoming these fears can allow us to have a better dying experience, whether one is the person dying or a family member in attendance
Now I think it’s time to break out one of those cozy mysteries I’ve got lying around here somewhere.