The Flickering Light – How we Die

Posted on February 25, 2016 by Tanya

Essentially everyone dies the same. Our heart stops beating, but for different reasons. How and even why this happens may be irrelevant to most of us. When it is our time, it is our time. If there is even the slightest chance of us prolonging our life or the life of a loved one, we will do it. “Extraordinary means” are defined by the individual and we all see them differently in different circumstances.

If someone has been suffering for years with a terminal illness and has been in a lot of pain, “extraordinary means” may be defined rather narrowly. We don’t want to prolong suffering. There is a fine line between treatment and torture. If this person is of advanced age, the decision can be easier than if they are in the prime of their life, or they are a child.

We do not allow our pets to suffer and it is considered the humane thing to do (to “put them down”) when they are perceived as suffering. We would never let our pets suffer. But people are another matter. It is not that we want them to suffer, but rather we don’t want to be the one to say “no more”, the end has come. That moral and ethical dilemma is not something we can tolerate so easily with people. It is not something we can accept with ease and decide without serious consideration and consultation with others.

But, as the body begins to shut down, the process can be watched a bit at a time and it is very much like a flickering light. There is energy and life and color one day. The next there is sleep and pallor – grayness. The spirit and the body itself come and go, on and off, back and forth. They flicker within the weeks and days and hours. They may have a week or more of engagement and activity and a week or more of limited conversations and responsiveness. This can also vacillate between the days or even the hours. It can come and go without reason or warning

What Death Means – Part 2

Posted on February 16, 2016 by Tanya

Death can also mean that the person’s body is gone, but their spirit remains near us and with us, and even interacting with us; we actually feel their presence and some people even experience events explained only by the belief and understanding that death is not for the living. Those of us still here cannot know what the dying or dead experience. We have not been there. But, many who have lost a loved one have had amazing encounters and experiences that can only be explained by the presence of those who have died.

As people near death, amazing things can happen. Stories abound of people who are just about gone, but they hang on until one particular person is present or one thing has been said or seen. Some people only die when they have been “given permission to let go” by someone they love. Or, they die once someone has left the room and was not there to have to witness the death. Again, we cannot know these things until we are there and experiencing them ourselves.

Death truly means what you need it to mean. Sure, there are universal truths – once dead, you no longer walk and talk, or eat and breathe the way you once did when living. Beyond this, death means what you need it to. For some of us, we believe that people continue with us in spirit – their presence is felt at pivotal times in our lives, they are near us when we need to feel them. Some people have even had odd things happen that they can only explain by knowing their loved one had a hand in it. There may be a special shell known only to you and your loved one and that shell is moved or placed directly in your path so you see it, so you know they are still with you. Yes, this actually happened!

If these things do not happen to you once you have lost a loved one, it does not mean they are no longer with you or that it is not possible for this to happen. It may mean that you are not yet aware of the experiences or that you are able to subscribe them to other explanations. Either way is not good or bad, right or wrong, but a different way to process the dying and death. Either way can be healthy and healing and perfectly acceptable. We all live differently, so we should expect that we all will die differently.

The Flickering Light – What Death Means

Posted on February 11, 2016 by Tanya

Truly, dying is something all living creatures do. It is in essence the definition of living. You must live to die. That does not help us when death is unexpected or tragic or we are simply not ready for it. The fact that death happens to us all is of little comfort to those who have seen someone die, or lost someone who was young, in an accident or victim of a crime. To lose someone in such an unexpected and unfair way has its own wounds to address, redress and heal. In many ways, that kind of death is a very different experience and the process the living must endure is just as tragic and leaves those outside of the pain helpless.

When we do know that death is coming, we are offered a lot of information about the reasons someone is dying and about the actual physical process of dying. For those of us who heed a higher calling, we look to our clergy for answers and comfort. It is often in faith that people find some peace through the process – those who are dying and know it and those who are surrounding the dying and don’t want to acknowledge it.

Depending on your view of life and, yes, death, you may look at dying as simply a physical process in which the body ceases to function and the person is physically gone. They are simply no longer here with us to laugh, cry, talk, drink, visit, or dine. The dead are no longer in any pain and are free to be unburdened by the discomfort they may have been experiencing. They are “at peace” and that give the living peace and a way to begin healing from our loss.

The Flickering Light – GG and Grandad

Posted on February 2, 2016 by Tanya

My joke was always this: every morning my grandad, GG (great grandad), did not wake up dead he was pissed off. While I say it was a joke, there was a lot of seriousness to this statement. He was tired and ready. He missed my Grandmother who died nearly two decades before him, and he had lived a good, long life. It was time and yet his body continued to live. Where he had once thrived, he now simply survived. He lived on less food and more sleep. His past anger dissipated and he became a benevolent, if still stern, man.

In a similar situation, nearly two decades after a terminal diagnosis, my father-in-law became to symbolize what my husband (and his son) called “the flickering light”. Like my GG, he too began to have good days and bad days. He too would be a little talkative (he was never a gabber) and still have times when he said nothing at all, even when directly spoken to. He would have a raging infection of some sort with a fever and then just as suddenly it would be gone and he was “back”. One day he would be sitting up reading the paper or watching television and in a matter of hours he would be fading and a bit loopy in his thinking. He too was tired, but he had reasons he wanted to live. But even these reasons became less powerful while the discomfort and exhaustion became more influential.

It was this “flickering” that made saying good-bye a challenge. If either had just simply failed and made a gradual decline with no resurgence, we could have had an idea of what was going on and when death would occur. But neither did. They continued to flicker for years, often to their own chagrin. They were old, sick, tired, and yet at peace with their lives. They saw what they wanted to see and allowed the rest to go unseen; living in denial and on their own terms, they thrived as only they could. Perhaps they were just of a different breed, a different generation. Or, they simply had a constitution that was incredibly strong and hearty. Though they may have been tired and ready to let go, there was something in both that kept them going long after all the professionals had anticipated or expected.

We knew they both would be OK because we were there to take care of them. My GG had my parents who lived upstairs from him and tended to his every need and in the way he wanted. This was on his terms as he was a stern, direct, simple, authoritative man. Plus, as he was in his 90s, no one was going to challenge him. If he wanted to sit and watch car races or sleep or no longer exercise or eat his vegetables, no one was going to force him or challenge his reasoning. He deserved to live as he wanted by that age. He had a difficult life and we were not going to have it be any more so at the end of his life. That was our gift to him.

My father-in-law had my mother-in-law who literally put her life on hold to ensure he had what he needed in the way he wanted it and when he needed it. For two decades. That was her promise to him when she married him and she held to it with grace and strength. He also was a direct and simple man. By the time he entered hospice care, he had out lived the worst prognosis by almost a decade. I am convinced he thrived as he did because of the care she gave him and because he had his two grandsons whom he completely cherished. He loved his wife, his son, and me; but he lived for his grandsons.

In both of these situations, the one who was in the process of dying was cared for. They had shelter, food, care, love, attention, comfort and anything else they needed or wanted. It was those around them who did not have the same attention or support. Yes there were others who stepped in periodically and provided some relief now and then and in limited ways. These breaks were vital respites for them. Yet they still were the primary caregivers who were responsible for the daily needs. And they were the ones watching and waiting with no end in sight – for them and for us.

It is to these caregivers I dedicate this book. It is to my parents who put aside decades of emotions and stalled their own retirement to tend to my GG. It is to my mother-in-law who for two decades graciously loved and cared for my father-in-law and often with little relief. Thank you for your example, your dedication, and your love. You will have as good as you gave. You will continue to be my inspiration and my idols. I appreciate you and the examples you lived and showed others.