Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Death Is a Part of Life...

Death is a part of life.  Many of us wish that it were not and could possibly live forever.  Death is quite often an ugly and horrific process.  In fact, I have never heard of a "beautiful" death, but if we are open, we can see God working amazing things through our encounters with death.

My grandmother had a massive stroke this past mother's day.  The left side of the brain is almost completely destroyed with no chance of recovery.  She cannot speak, move the right side of her body, swallow very well, or move anything other than her left hand, and even that is only a little bit.  She can open her eyes briefly and responds to sound, but what she actually comprehends is questionable as the language center of the brain was greatly impacted by the stroke.

Tonight, I read to her from the Bible for a while as she loved the Scriptures.  How much she understood, I do not know, but I hope she was able to at least understand a little bit...somehow.  
Her lungs are filling up with fluid and the secretions foam up at her mouth and need to be cleaned out.  While I was visiting her at hospice today, I could hear her raspy breaths, which I cannot quite seem to grow accustomed to, and watch the secretion pile up at the corner of right, droopy side of her mouth.  I attempted to clean it with a towel and gagged multiple times at the consistency, color, and smell, but found my attempts feeble and called the nurse to clean her mouth.  

I requested the nurses to clean her mouth as often as possible through the seems to be the only visible care that she needs.   I desperately wanted to stay the night so that she was not alone and could not bare to leave her in that state, but knew for my sake that I needed to.  The sights, sounds, and reality of what I saw was almost too much for me to handle.  I have never been so close to watching death at work.  Tears fell and nausea started to hit my stomach.  I was on the verge of hysteria as I got in my car to drive home...torn between desperately wanting to care for my grandmother and the responsibilities of my job and life.

So how can there be anything "beautiful" in the midst of what I have encountered over the past 4 days of the last days of my grandmother's life?  Well, if we look at the other things that have happened, my sister and I have spent a significant amount of time together and not fought, at all.  My dad and I have spent more time together in such a short period than, I think, we have since I was a child and not fought, at all.  My four uncles and father were able to agree on my grandmother's care without an argument.  My four uncles, father, sister, and aunt spent many hours catching up, talking, laughing, and enjoying some time with each other.  I was able to learn things about my grandmother that I never knew.  I was able to learn that my mom, in spite of everything, actually liked my grandmother.  I learned humility and faith through what I saw in the simplicity and nostalgia of my grandmother's life.

When I got home tonight, after all that I have seen over the past four days, I want to vow to never take for granted how wonderful it is to brush my teeth, drink a refreshing glass of water, take a nice hot shower and step out feeling clean and refreshed, being able to turn in my bed without someone doing it for me, breathing fresh air through my nose, swallowing, not aching from the terrible arthritic pain she once felt, having a strong young heart and low blood pressure.  For as long as I live, I hope to enjoy every moment that I can feel, hear, speak, move...even if I feel pain, at least I can feel.  I look at the helplessness of my grandmother and realize that one day, hopefully far in the future, I will be in that same bed of death and utter dependence.  How will I live my life between now and then?  Will I take everything for granted?  Or will I live in the exuberance of knowing that at every moment I am alive I have everything to be grateful for?

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