It became crystal clear to me when Vic yelled at me in the ICU that she had deep-seated anger issues with me and where she was in her journey. Dying is unknown territory and none of us have walked this road. Yet we are all morbidly curious about dying. Everybody has some shadows of uncertainty.
According to Hospice there are FIVE stages of dying.
1. DENIAL: “I’m too young to die. I’m not ready to die (is anyone ever really ready?)” It became clear to me that despite the fact that Vic was sentenced ten years ago she is still in denial. Even after Brendan had informed her that nothing more could be done for her she still clings to her lifelong defiance of death. The prediction from one’s physician of imminent death can do several things. It can give you time to prepare, take care of business, close doors, make amends. The shock begins to ebb as you come to grips with approaching death. Vic has some doors to still close. Her business is in order. She has written letters to her loved ones, bought major birthday gifts and cards for the boys
2. ANGER: Suddenly the terminally ill person is no longer in control of their life. They have no choice any more – the die is cast….. They are going to die. This is really where Vic is now. She has lost control of her life. At the age of 37 she is living in her mother’s home, decisions are made for her she has become a child again. Her anger on Sunday morning was directed at me. Her profuse sense of helplessness and loss of control is however not a new feeling. Vicky has endured a long, debilitating illness. Doctor error has robbed her of a life. Illness has robbed her of her dignity. She is angry with God for allowing this to happen to her. She is angry for God not taking her. On Monday afternoon she said “Mommy, God does not even want me…”She has been robbed the opportunity to see her sons complete school, university, get engaged and eventually marry…… Many people die too early but at 37 it is mainly due to misfortune, wrong place wrong time, an accident….. At the age of 27 Vicky was sentenced to death…..
3. BARGAINING: I do not know what bargaining Vic has done with her God. I know that I have made lots of bargains with my God. Just one more Christmas….. Just one more birthday…..
4. DEPRESSION: Knowing that you are dying must be depressing! This must be a normal part of the process of preparing to die. Vic is depressed about her inability to deal with her responsibilities. Vic is too ill to get away from the symptoms of her illness ….. She waits for death every day. Vic is depressed about the pain that her illness is causing her sons, friends and family. Vic is depressed because she feels that she has failed her sons. Vic is depressed because she is lingering…. Vic is depressed about the loss of love that she has suffered. Vic is depressed period! But with good reason. Antidepressant’s are part of the pain control regime. If it is helping for her pain that is great. I hate to think what her mental condition would have been if she had not been on antidepressants.
5. ACCEPTANCE: Vic is not at this stage yet. This is one of the main reasons why we need Hospice. Brendan (her Gastroenterologist) referred her to a councillor last year to guide her into this phase of her journey. Vic went a couple of times and then it became a matter of budget – medication or counselling. Medication won. Hospice defines acceptance as follows…”Acceptance is NOT: doing nothing, defeat, resignation or submission. Acceptance IS: coming to terms with reality. It is accepting that the world will still go on without you. Death is after all, just a part of LIFE.”
I see absolutely no peace in Vic. She is still kicking and fighting. At times she may fool herself into thinking or believing that she has accepted her situation but it is crystal clear to me that it is not the case.
We met as a family on Tuesday evening to discuss all our frustrations. It becomes difficult to handle one’s day to day frustrations as we have different agenda’s. A while back Vic asked my permission to give up. She spoke to the boys. We cried and gave her “permission”.
The family immediately went into palliative mode. No demands or expectations for any normal functionality from us to Vic….. Therein lies the issue. We became an “Us” and “Her”… “Us” became the protectors and “Her” became the invalid. We tippy toed around Vic. The boys stop bothering her with everyday issues like “Can we go to the movies”; “please pick me up at 16:00”; “Do I have to go to extra lessons?” When we walked into her room and she was sleeping we would turn around and walk out. We would show no concern for the amount of pain medication Vic was on.
It is so easy to slip into a “mode”. I took all responsibilities out of Vicky’s hands, we as a family organized our lives around her pain levels and energy (or lack thereof) levels, we stopped laughing and living in our house. We were all dying!
When she lashed out at me in ICU I realized that we had serious problems. Vic was not ready for Stage 5. She started kicking against death – again. Her fight is back.
It is however a difficult and delicate balance between pain-free and functional….. Vic said that she wanted to reduce her pain medication as maybe she would not be so tired all the time. By Monday evening she was in so much pain that she was vomiting. She could not keep tablets down….. It took two days to get her pain under control again.
I have also read Katie Mitchells Blog on Chronic Pain and the way that brave lady articulates her battle with pain truly opened my eyes. I realize now that I cannot take living away from Vic whilst she is still breathing. I have to let go. I cannot protect her against pain. I cannot protect her against death. I have to try to look at her through her pain filled eyes as I don’t understand pain or her frustration. I am active and busy. Today I joined a gym so I can train with the boys. I do the things with her sons that Vic would LOVE to do! A couple of weeks ago Vic said “You are the fun person in the family. You do all the fun things with the boys” Obviously there must be resentment and anger (Stage 1).
But we live in a civilized home. We don’t scream, shout or curse. We bury things under the carpet. We walk away from conflict so we don’t know what the other is thinking or feeling. We only see the veneer..… How terribly sad!! We have lost our ability to function properly.
So from now when I am frustrated with Vicky attempts at doing things for herself or the boys I will leave her be!! PLEASE God help me!!!! I am such a control freak!!! I will endeavor to not stop her from going for a cup of coffee with one of her friends. I will just pick up the pieces afterwards.
I have to stop being selfish. I realize that I was trying to keep Vicky pain-free as it is easier for me to handle!! Pain free means medication on the strict regime, no strenuous activities, protected and wrapped up in cotton wool. Vic must make her own painful decisions. If she wants to take the boys to school who am I to stop her? Of course she must but not on 400 mg of morphine!
The problem is that I look at Vic and all I see is that fragile little toddler…… And she is sick. Very sick! I want to protect her, breathe for her, die for her. Vicky is my baby.