Grandma and What She Taught a Hospice Nurse
Submitted by Whitney Dellea
When I heard she was moving back North from Florida I knew it was for her to die. She would never have left Florida otherwise and to pull her from there would be to remove a piece of her soul. And yes, when Grandma came back I did not know her anymore. She was hard and sad. She looked right through me. She was a woman waiting to die.
Grandma would not let go. I could not help her. Being a hospice nurse this greatly disturbed me. Grandma needed emotional and spiritual help but she would let no one in, not even herself. I could not help her emotional/spiritual self but when her body finally gave in I was able to keep her comfortable There was never a larger honor. Grandma taught me so much about hospice.
Grandma came back to New England in the winter time. This setting fit the mood. I recall how my mother described Grandma's detachment when she and my aunt went down to Florida to pack up her house and sell it. It seemed that Grandma had also packed up any remaining hope she may of had.
I could tell she was happy to see me but no meaningful conversation could be had. She simply did not care anymore. I truly could not blame her- all the loss she had been though, the nursing home, the medication induced madness, the loss of her home, the loss of her independence.
I wanted Grandma to let go. I hated seeing her that way. We all did. She already had let go in so many ways. But she wouldn't or couldn't... not yet. Grandma was proof of the need for emotional, spiritual, and physical balance in order to live at the end. She did not have this balance and she would not live at the end.
Instead she moved in with my aunt. She could have spent the year in an apartment but she was scared of something we will never know. This something was terrifying enough that she placed herself in a recliner in my aunts living room and never moved...until she had to. My aunt was falling apart. Grandma could be demanding and mean. Still there has always been strong love in this family.
A year and a half later, when my aunt's marriage and literal life were at stake, Grandma barely qualified to live in an assisted living. She made a weak attempt to socialize but it was as if the others could sense that death was upon her and they shunned her. It was cruel. It was like back in grade school and Grandma was not welcome at the popular kids table. It took one episode of humiliation and Grandma never returned to the dining room. Again she stayed in her recliner-but it was her recliner and the room was her own. Grandma seemed more dignified there. I liked to see her there. She was in that room for less than two months.
She passed in that room of her own on a beautiful bed that my mother had provided. There was air and light in that room. She passed like a queen surrounded by her dutiful, loving family. This is where I got my chance to help Grandma. All my hospice training had prepared me for the necessities concerning her physical needs such as medication dosing, scheduling, and titration, arrangement of her private care, keeping her clean, keeping her mouth moist and the utilization of alternative therapies such as flower remedies, aromatherapy, and reiki.
Not only Grandma received theses alternative therapies. My other family members took part and were even eager to participate. I was able to guide them through what was happening. In this way the emotional/spiritual side of hospice shone. Grandma wouldn’t let me in but the rest of my family welcomed me with open and eager arms. It was an experience I will never forget.
I was proud to be able to keep grandma comfortable. I knew she closed herself off to the world long ago and I remembered many fond memories of our time together before she had done so. I was proud of my family and they were proud of me. Grandma had brought us together. I was able to show my family what it is that I do everyday and the gratitude and respect that I received from them will forever resonate for me.
Being with Grandma at her end of life was riddled with many emotions. She taught me so much. She showed me the other side- what my patient's families are going through. She deepened my practice and although her story is sad in many ways, she was a guarded woman her whole life. Sometimes people just don't open. Still, Grandma shows us what happens if we don't. Perhaps now I have a better chance at helping to create that sacred balance necessary to live at the end.