Finding Peace When Facing Death
Looking for Peace
The hospice nurse asked Mom a few weeks ago, how she was doing. My mom answered, “I don’t know what to expect. I don’t know what’s going to happen next.” The nurse asked, “What would you like to happen next?”
Mom answered, “ I’d like to have peace. I’d like to have tranquility.”
It occurs to me that no one really talked to my mom about end of life scenarios—the actual dying part of death. Things like what, in the normal course of her disease, should she expect? I wonder if knowing would help her, or cause her more alarm? Would it help her to know that the most common cause of death in people with vascular dementia is pneumonia, followed by ischemic heart disease? I’m thinking, probably not.
Comfort in Facts and Statistics
I like facts and statistics. They comfort me. Statistics helped me after our daughter’s murder. Hearing that a large percentage of mothers who’d lost a child to violent death experienced periods of dissociation helped me. I thought, thank goodness, I was afraid I was losing my mind! I would be at work and suddenly feel like I wasn’t actually there but was witnessing a meeting or conversation as if I was viewing it from above. It was as if I were floating above my life watching it but not actually participating. It was terrifying.
I had other symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder. Horrible nightmares in which I watched my daughter being killed but some barrier kept me from her (the barrier varied from dream to dream) and I couldn’t reach her.
I couldn’t face large crowds. Once, in the mall during Christmas. I was looking for a baseball cap for one of our sons. The caps were vertically arranged on shelves up to eight feet high. As I stood there a tall man walked up behind me, reached over my head and grabbed a hat from a shelf above me. It felt like he had invaded my personal space but it was Christmastime and crowded. I’m sure the man had nothing on his mind but getting his purchase and leaving. I started shaking, feeling terrified and ran from the store. I sat on a mall bench as far from other people as I could get, with my back to the security booth until I felt more calm. I left the mall and went home, having purchased nothing. I didn’t go to another shopping mall for a couple of years. Feeling unsafe in crowds is common in PTSD. (I think of the poor people in Las Vegas who saw the shootings and wonder if they will ever be able to attend another concert.)
My list of statistics came from our counselors. We agreed to take part in a study of families who had lost someone to violent death, Separation and Loss and Homicide Support Clinic, Virginia Mason Hospital. They have a great program for grieving and particularly for those dealing with violent death or suicide of a family member. We were among the first in their trial groups. https://www.virginiamason.org/separationandlossservices. They also have a website with resources for clients and clinicians, even a DVD that includes an interview of my husband and me. I’ve never watched it, though I vividly remember making it. It’s used for training clinicians, first responders and law enforcement. This is the site for resources. http://www.vdbs.org/html/dvd-links.html
Meeting with the MSW and psychiatrist, many times statistics helped me feel more normal. How many people experience a drop in income afterwards (It’s hard to focus on work, some never work again), how many people continue to have intrusive thoughts, the percentage of those involved in auto accidents in the first six months after the trauma, how many marriages fail (they told me it was over 90%), and how many people experience symptoms of PTSD long after the event. Why did I even experience PTSD since I didn’t witness the murder? Apparently, because wasn’t there, the mind makes up its own version of the event. The images seem as real as if I were there.
Different Ways of Coping
My mom is not like me, though. Statistics are of no comfort to her. She relates to the personal stories of others, not numbers. They wrote “Chicken Soup for the Soul” for people like my mom. The Hospice chaplain called last week asking if we’d like a visit. I thought, maybe the chaplain would be someone Mom could talk to about her concerns. When I asked Mom if she’d like a chaplain visit, she asked “Why? I’m surrounded by chaplains, my son-in-law, our pastor.” Yet she has never asked them the kinds of questions she asked the nurse that day. She won’t engage with me about it. If I approach the topic, she changes the subject.
I’m still puzzled. Was her question about “what to expect” related to the physical or the spiritual aspect of dying? Is she unable to feel peace because she fears being in pain or physical suffering? Or, is her question related to the unknowable aspects of death? After all, once we experience death we can’t come back and explain it. My mom hasn’t asked that question, or any like it, since.
Mom’s feeling better physically and because she feels better, I think death seems far away and she doesn’t want to think about it. I would like to feel ready if she brings it up again. I want her to find peace. I’m just not sure how one prepares for that conversation or if I’m the right person to talk to her. I suspect she would rather talk to someone who is not her daughter, probably why she asked the nurse, not me. Maybe that’s a question for the chaplain.
In re-reading this blog, I’ve talked a lot about myself, more than my mom. I suspect the subject of death brings up my most intense memories of, and experience with it. It probably will continue to do so. I think if you have a previous experience of death and dying, especially a very emotional one, you will find this happening to you too. The memories resurface. Not being a psychologist or mental health professional of any sort, I’m basing this on personal experience, not any clinical knowledge. I suspect I’d feel better if I could quote you some statistics. It just seems I’m wired that way.
Faith, Where My Peace is Found
I’m not discounting the faith part of my experience with death because it is the primary source of my resiliency in dealing with it. It is what ultimately gives me peace. However, as a human being, I still struggle with human emotions and human reactions. In the end I rest on faith. I think my mom, as a human being, is wrestling with emotions as well. I’m praying even in her difficulties with dementia, her faith will ultimately bring her the peace and tranquillity she’s seeking.
Have a good caregiving week,