Groundhog Day

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I got a pamphlet from the hospice nurse tonight. It divides the dying process into “months to live,” “weeks to live,” “days to live,” and “hours to live.” It isn’t concrete science, but pretty accurate, giving the survivors a general guideline as to what to expect physically and otherwise as their loved one dies.

I was sitting with mom in dad’s room as I read it. “Have you seen this?” I asked her.

“No.” She said that with a tone that inferred she didn’t want to see it.

Sitting in the darkening room, as evening was falling, watching my father mostly sleep; today he is not eating or drinking, he is clawing at his covers and his shirt, moaning occasionally, not really present, but nevertheless, a presence.

Under the “days to live” section I found the rally. “The patient may sit up, eat, chat,” and it said “embrace this time, use it to talk with your loved one and share your love.” And under the same section is the “clawing at blankets” phrase.

My mom interrupted my reading. “He could go on like this for years.”

I said, “No, I don’t think so Mom.”

Just two days ago we sat with the social worker and doctor of the hospice facility. My mom opened up the discussion by saying, “I suppose you want me to move him out of here, since he has been so energetic.”

The staff looked at her like she’d grown another head. “Oh no, not at all! We are still evaluating him, and while he may have had a ‘Lazarus’ episode, this does not mean that he isn’t dying, nor does it mean that he needs to leave here. He isn’t going to go anywhere for awhile. We just take this one day at a time.”

My mom’s shoulders sagged in relief, and her eyes welled up. I know she was stressing about what was going to happen. She and I had really been through the ringer. Dad was at death’s door, everyone agreed. We moved him to hospice, summoned my brother from back east. Not only did he seemingly rise from the doorway of death, he literally rose, as he got up and walked with some help and a walker to the nurse’s station the day prior to us sitting with the doctor and social worker. Lazarus was an accurate name. Mom and I were stunned, and that’s putting it mildly.

Tonight, it’s more like Groundhog Day. The groundhog came out and sniffed around and crawled back into his cave. Did he see his shadow? Will it be a longer winter, or will spring come soon? I think of it as: will it be longer winter torture, or will spring, the release that death brings, come soon? The pamphlet says that while it gives general guidelines, everyone’s death, like his or her life, is individual. There is no right or wrong way to die.

I am still numb. I am doing better, as I know what day it is, what date it is. For a while there, the day and date were something I had to really think about. But after the fall, the rise, and now the fall again in my father’s condition, I just don’t know what’s going to happen. He may indeed go on like this for awhile. Or not. One day at a time.


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