In August 2020, I received a call that an ambulance was transporting my mother from her nursing home to the nearest hospital. Her vital signs were trending downward; she was not eating, and she was nonresponsive. After she arrived, the hospital’s attending physician called to give my sister and me an update and to review her advanced care directives (ACD). Although I’d signed a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate Form) when my mother entered the nursing home, the possibility that this was the end of her life, caused me to freak out, to beg God for more time. The possibility of her dying alone in a hospital room went against everything we knew about her and how she would want to make her transition. Scenes from her life, her interactions with family, and with us guided us as we came face to face with our mother’s mortality. As my sister and I agreed, we were not ready to let her go. We needed them to do everything possible to save her life.
My mother’s cultural and lived experiences are based on an abiding belief in God’s will relative to caring for the sick and/or dying.
“Not all sickness is unto death” is one of her favorite sayings. She also believes death is not the end and talks to and talks about family and friends who’ve made the transition. Throughout the years, her personal care ministry was visiting church members, friends, and relatives confined to nursing homes. Caring for the sick brought her joy. She sang, prayed, and shared community news of the day.
At 94 years old, my mother has longevity. Psalms 90:10 reads The days of our years [are] threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength [they be] fourscore years, yet [is] their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away. She’s been blessed because she cared for everyone else. During illnesses, she sat at bedsides being the comforter, attending to personal needs, providing gossip, community news, and allowing them to focus on something other than their dismal prognosis.
My mother believes “in waiting on God” for all things. When two of her daughters were diagnosed with terminal illnesses, she sat by their bedsides praying for God to heal them. As the debilitating aspects of their diseases progressed, she prayed to God for His will to be done. When they died, she told them, “I’ll see you again.” My mother repeated those rituals with both her parents after she became their caregiver—keeping them in the home until her mother’s health necessitated nursing home care. Her father lived with her until he was ninety-six. She worked her day job as well as took care of him.
When her brother was confined to the nursing home, she went to visit with him every day. Some days, he didn’t talk at all. She didn’t care. Her presence and prayers were all she could offer, and she did it gladly. When he made his transition, she called me to say, “my brother left me today.” He was the final survivor of her four brothers.
During this current COVID-19, we are constrained by our inability to interact with her while hospitalized. We can’t hold her hand, encourage her to eat or drink, play her favorite music, or talk about the current things going on with everyone. We have to accept palliative care while she’s hospitalized. While hospitalized, palliative care provides comfort for our mother. Her children are forbidden to see her, reassure her, and ease her discomfort about why she’s hooked up to these machines. We can’t give needed information about her past medical history or idiosyncrasies to her healthcare team. She can’t hear our voices or the conversations we carry on with her even when she’s a silent listener/witness.
When she returns to the nursing home, my mother will have hospice care—a person to check in on her two and four times a week responds to her needs and the family’s concerns. She won’t have to spend long periods alone. The hospice staff member will also provide close monitoring of the intravenous meds she needs at this stage of her dementia.
End of life is not a euphemism, although most of us act like it is. When the specter of death appeared, I was not prepared. I’m encouraging each of us to talk with our children: have the difficult conversations about the questions that might arise: what types of interventions do you want when you reach that fragile period between barely living/hanging on and becoming an ancestor? There are often murky gray areas when the issues are not clear cut. Doctors can offer their guidance and guestimates based on experience, but the family must make the decisions. It’s not a time to talk in code. Tell them precisely what you want—when it’s appropriate to say, “I’m good…I’m ready to go see my loved ones on the other side and to meet my God”.
Take care of your family members while they are living and can appreciate you. Nothing is more important than family.
– Joyce A. Brown
Joyce Brown is a motivational speaker and author who uses her creative energy to give voice and meaning to the challenges women face in all walks of life. She grew up in Rockford, Illinois in a household of strong women. She graduated from Bradley University with a B.S. and M.A. Her professional career expanded her reach into Peoria, Illinois; and Battle Creek, Michigan. Joyce obtained a Ph.D. from Western Michigan University.
She is a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and has served as a direct services worker, executive director, program director for a major foundation, and an entrepreneur. Joyce has experienced many uplifting moments as a professional and as a dedicated parent and strives to bring those events and lessons to life through her characters in contemporary fiction novels she pens.