Sunday, January 4, 2015

When Wanting to Die ~ Burdens Shared Are Burdens Lightened

A few days after Christmas, we heard from a cousin that our 97-year-old uncle was critically ill and in a hospital. She said that after he was discharged he would likely need to be moved from Mariposa Gardens ALC into extended care. We took her assessment seriously. Less than six months earlier, uncle and aunty had moved into the ALC. This would present an even more difficult change for them.

My cousin added,
"Aunty is sweetly confused but is aware enough to realize life is taking a drastic change, and she is finding it difficult."
We'd emailed Christmas greetings to these Canadian relatives early in December, but hadn't worried when we didn't receive the annual holiday letter my uncle always wrote. Here, in Washington State, when Art and I moved into an assisted living community, I was beset with doubts and fears, especially during the first month. Long-standing rituals, like sending seasons greetings, diminished drastically.
A surprise email from my uncle arrived a few days after his niece's email. Although we still didn't know his current condition, we guessed his congestive heart failure had worsened.
We believed his every word when he wrote,
"My health took a downward turn, was in hospital 2 weeks and just home for a short duration. So thanks for all the visits and love, but this is likely the last you will hear from me. Uncle."
We emailed their only daughter to comfort her, and were pleasantly surprised when her reply said uncle was home with his wife at their apartment in the ALC and doing well.

Her email said both of her parents had their medications dished out by the facility, "instead of hit and miss as they may have been taking them. Dad wants to die. He doesn't want to live like this, but he's doing better than he thinks, and has a new walker to get to meals. Both are doing well for now, considering. However, Mom is starting to realize she may be alone soon. Despite her failing memory, she's struggling with that realization. We're thankful to the Lord for each day."

Uncle and aunty's reactions to their situation are somewhat like my own since Art and I moved to this ALC, and like that of other people I've known. Although my health has improved dramatically, on days when I feel ill and don't know the cause, I, too, wish to just die.

Despite the many wonderful aspects of being among our contemporaries the past four months, I understand that when an elderly ALC resident is hospitalized due to illness it's normal for them to become depressed and think the worst ~ that they may be dying soon.

And like Aunty, even though Art's health has stabilized these past months, I suffer panic attacks when I think beyond the now.

Here are four things that have helped me:
  • I visit friends I've made, and we talk about our concerns, whether they are alone or have spouses or families who live nearby.
  • I've formed bonds with several who have no family nearby to rely on for help and comfort in time of need. Sharing makes us each other's support system.
  • We started a phone-calling tree ~ where each person calls the next on the list daily, rotating the list frequently. There is always someone at hand to share our cares.
  • Talking to staff members also helps. Good ALCs have staff that truly have our wellbeing and happiness uppermost in mind and will guide us to someone we can rely on.
We take part in social activities, and encourage each other to attend. Support and encouragement also result from participating in exercises classes, religious services, and going on outings provided by the ALC.
Burdens shared are lightened in the caring.


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