Vic often said “I must be such a disappointment to you. I have done nothing with my life!”
This morning I read these beautiful words and so wished I could have shared it with Vic.
“This is to have succeeded” posted on June 4, 2013 by Dr Bill http://drbillwooten.com/2013/06/04/this-is-to-have-succeeded
“To laugh often and love much; to win the respect of intelligent persons and the affection of children; to earn the approbation of honest citizens and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to give of one’s self; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived—this is to have succeeded.” ~ Bessie Anderson Stanley
To laugh often and love much – That Vic did. She always had a smile on her precious face. Even when she was in dreadful pain she would try to smile. When she was in a lot of pain her laugh was shrill. Pain seldom stopped her from laughing… In 2007 I said to Vic that my life was sad.
“That is terrible Mommy. Why?”
I felt like hitting my head against a wall! What did the child think? In 2007 Vic must have had 18 operations; developed every hospital superbug in the book; developed septicaemia, had a high output fistula; developed Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome; spend months in ICU and survived having the ventilator turned off… Vic was op TPN (Total Parental Nutrition) for months…she had a massive open wound that we could not keep covered with a colostomy bag. It was too big and positioned very low down.
“I worry about you every second of the day baby. I worry whether you have vomited and how much you vomited; I worry whether you have been able to eat anything… I worry about your wound. I worry about your pain control….”
“Mommy, that is so sad. At least once a week the boys and I laugh so much that my tummy hurts from it…”
Vic in 2007
Vic loved unconditionally and with every fibre of her body. She gave everything! She was a wonderful daughter, mother, friend…She loved her family, her siblings, her friends and her boys. She LIVED love.
Her last words ever were “I love you Mommy”
… to win the respect of intelligent persons and the affection of children; Worldwide, intelligent people, respected and admired Vic for her courage, tenacity… We called Vic the “baby whisperer”. Children loved her. She loved children. Her only ambition as a toddler and teenager was to be a Mommy. She loved her sons beyond comprehension…
The Baby Whisperer
…… to earn the approbation of honest citizens and endure the betrayal of false friends; Vic suffered a lot of betrayal in her little life. People got tired of waiting for her to die. “Friends” spoke about her “addiction” to pain medication behind her back… They used her illness as a weapon against her when she was at her most vulnerable. False friends (and loved ones) spoke their “minds” and condemned and judged Vic for choices she made… Because she was ill people thought they could say what they wanted, when they wanted.
….. to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; My precious child was so naïve. She refused to see the bad in people! The only time she got irritated and miserable was in hospital. She always found the good in people. She did not speak badly of people. When I was angry with someone she would placate me…point out their good points… She knew that if she voiced her own anger it would have driven me over the edge. Vic taught me unconditional love, forgiveness and tolerance. Vic brought out the best in me and the most other people.
…..to give of one’s self; Vic was a people pleaser. She would turn down MY bed!!!! She made sacrifices for each and every person in her life. Even in death she worried about other dying people who were less privileged than she was. I promised her at 2 am on the 16th of November 2012, a mere 2 months and 2 days before she died, that I would start Stepping Stone Hospice! She kept talking to me about Stepping Stone until she lapsed into a coma. We started on the 1st of January 2013 and Vic died on the 18th of January. Our first patient. Our first death.
…..to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; Vic left the world a better place. Her sons are monuments of the person she was; her dream of a Hospice has been realized.
……to have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation; With the 2010 Soccer World Cup Vic went crazy with enthusiasm; she bought every gimmick that hit the shops; she went of the “soccer train” in her wheelchair, she watched every single soccer game.
Vic loving World Cup 2010
……to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived Vic’s legacy will live on through her sons and Stepping Stone Hospice. Long after I have died, people will continue to benefit from Vic’s dreams and goodness.
—this is to have succeeded.” My angel child – you succeeded! You succeeded in life and with living. You made the world a beautiful place filled with goodness and hope. I am so proud of you. You lived life to the full. You made a difference! You lived a greater and more successful life than most people. You have put the world to shame. You are my hero!
I am cautiously optimistic that we have managed to stop the bleeding ulcer and that the new medicine regime has the vomiting under control. Vic is still running a fever, her BP is dropping and her heart rate has stabilized in the 110’s. She appears to be more stable than she has been in a couple of weeks.
This morning, after I washed her and changed her pyjamas she said “Mommy, I would like to go to the supermarket today…”
“Cool, what do you want to buy?” I asked
“Tippex (correction liquid) for the boys and Stilpain and Syndol (Tablets)” she said.
“Okay….” I said
“But I think you will have to drive Mommy… I don’t think I should be driving!” Vic said
This incredible young woman just does not know how to die! Vic had a good breakfast this morning. Vic has not eaten since Christmas!
The boys are fleeing home. Jon-Daniel has spent the past day and a half at Esther and Leon’s. Jared went to his Dad’s. I wish I too could flee. For the first time in my life I have come to understand why families place their dying loved ones in hospital of in a Hospice In-Patient unit. The waiting is gruelling and heart wrenching. The rollercoaster of dying is horrific!
I previously researched the “length of dying”.
The Journey Begins: One to Three Months Prior to Death
As one begins to accept their mortality and realizes that death is approaching, they may begin to withdraw from their surroundings. They are beginning the process of separating from the world and those in it. They may decline visits from friends, neighbors, and even family members. When they do accept visitors, they may be difficult to interact with and care for. They are beginning to contemplate their life and revisit old memories. They may be evaluating how they lived their life and sorting through any regrets. They may also undertake the five tasks of dying.
#1: Ask For Forgiveness
#2: Offer ForgivenessTask
#3: Offer Heartfelt ThanksTask
#4: Offer Sentiments of Love
#5: Say Goodbye
The dying person may experience reduced appetite and weight loss as the body begins to slow down. The body doesn’t need the energy from food that it once did. The dying person may be sleeping more now and not engaging in activities they once enjoyed. They no longer need the nourishment from food they once did. The body does a wonderful thing during this time as altered body chemistry produces a mild sense of euphoria. They are neither hungry nor thirsty and are not suffering in any way by not eating. It is an expected part of the journey they have begun.
One to Two Weeks Prior to Death
This is the time during the journey that one begins to sleep most of the time. Disorientation is common and altered senses of perception can be expected. One may experience delusions, such as fearing hidden enemies or feeling invincible.
The dying person may also experience hallucinations, sometimes seeing or speaking to people that aren’t there. Often times these are people that have already died. Some may see this as the veil being lifted between this life and the next. The person may pick at their sheets and clothing in a state of agitation. Movements and actions may seem aimless and make no sense to others. They are moving further away from life on this earth.
The body is having a more difficult time maintaining itself. There are signs that the body may show during this time:
- The body temperature lowers by a degree or more.
- The blood pressure lowers.
- The pulse becomes irregular and may slow down or speed up.
- There is increased perspiration.
- Skin color changes as circulation becomes diminished. This is often more noticeable in the lips and nail beds as they become pale and bluish.
- Breathing changes occur, often becoming more rapid and labored. Congestion may also occur causing a rattling sound and cough.
- Speaking decreases and eventually stops altogether.
Journey’s End: A Couple of Days to Hours Prior to Death
The person is moving closer towards death. There may be a surge of energy as they get nearer. They may want to get out of bed and talk to loved ones, or ask for food after days of no appetite. This surge of energy may be quite a bit less noticeable but is usually used as a dying person’s final physical expression before moving on.
The surge of energy is usually short, and the previous signs become more pronounced as death approaches. Breathing becomes more irregular and often slower. “Cheyne-Stokes”breathing, rapid breathes followed by periods of no breathing at all, may occur. Congestion in the airway can increase causing loud, rattled breathing.
Hands and feet may become blotchy and purplish (mottled). This mottling may slowly work its way up the arms and legs. Lips and nail beds are bluish or purple. The person usually becomes unresponsive and may have their eyes open or semi-open but not seeing their surroundings. It is widely believed that hearing is the last sense to go so it is recommended that loved ones sit with and talk to the dying during this time.
Eventually, breathing will cease altogether and the heart stops. Death has occurred. http://dying.about.com/od/thedyingprocess/a/process.htm
Vic has experienced severe delirium or rather terminal restlessness, which is apparently a fairly common symptom in many dying patients.
Some characteristics of delirium include:
- Impaired level of consciousness with a reduced awareness of the surrounding environment
- Impaired short-term memory and attention span
- Disorientation to time and place
- Delusions and/or hallucinations (believing and/or seeing things that are not real)
- Uncharacteristic speech – may be really loud or soft, very rapid or slow
- Fluctuating mood swings
- Sleep disturbances – insomnia or reversed sleep cycle
- Abnormal activity – body movements may be increase or decreased, very fast or slow
restlessness, anxiety, agitation, and cognitive failure.
Terminal restlessness is so distressing because it has a direct negative impact on the dying process. We all want death to be a comfortable and peaceful experience, but if a patient is dying with terminal restlessness, her death can be anything but comfortable and peaceful. http://dying.about.com/od/symptommanagement/a/delirium.htm
Vic is on massive dosages of medication. She is peaceful now.
On Monday, the 14th, Jon-Daniel will receive his school colours for academic achievements. Vicky is determined to attend the ceremony. We will find a way of getting her to the school to witness this achievement. I believe it is the last goal she has.
So despite me saying that Vic does not know how to die she is actually having a textbook death…
It has been a long day. Vic is in a drug induced sleep. She looks so peaceful. Vic is not anesthetized – she wakes when she is thirsty or in pain. She has only urinated once in 24 hours. Her end is near.
Vic is looking angelically beautiful. Her skin is blemish free and almost transparent. Her hair seems to have taken on a life of its own. Her little hands look skeleton like. Her body is wasting away and yet she remains as beautiful as ever!
I will not sleep tonight. Many years ago I promised Vic that she would not die alone or in a hospital. The time is near and I must honour this promise.
Earlier tonight she woke up and I wasn’t in her room. She had a panic attack… Danie found her trying to walk down the passage. She was holding onto the wall and tears were running down her cheeks. “Mommy, I am scared…”
Something has started bleeding again. Vic vomited and there are signs of old and new blood again. “Look Mommy, my mouth is bleeding…” she said.
Vic is deadly pale and her body has involuntary “jerking” movements. She is decidedly unstable.
“Mommy, you have to get me to the awards evening. I don’t care how. Promise me Mommy!!!” She sobbed tonight. Tomorrow I will speak to the school and make the arrangements. It is not a wheelchair friendly school and Vic could never sit through a two-hour ceremony. We will find a way.
We had a strangely “normal” day today. Jared brought his gaming computer down from the study into my TV lounge. It is something I don’t encourage because there are wires and cords all over and I HATE the untidiness of it. Today I welcomed it. We needed to be close to one another. I swam twice and we ate spaghetti bolognaise.
The boys have fear in their eyes. I have fear in my heart.
This week I truly realised that the Stepping Stone Hospice patients are “our” people. Our friends. They are not strangers. They are people we know from church, they are our neighbours, our friends; friends of friends… Our Hospice cares for our own. We are not “removed” from the community.
We however continually grieve.
Stepping Stone Hospice is just so different. We are not a group of detached, paid staff doing a job. This is a Hospice driven by the tears of its members. It understands the fear in the hearts of its dying and its survivors. We see our loved ones
We have lost our fear of death. We have not become immune to the tears of our community and friends. We truly live and experience “Ubuntu” every day.
A little old lady has shuffled into our offices with R150.00 ($15.00). She told us that when the interest rate went up she would be in a position to increase her monthly contribution to our “worthy cause”. How amazing would it be if everyone in our community contributed $15.00 a month?
I love spending time in our building. I feel close to Vic.
Our Hospice journey is a healing journey. We have been helped over the stepping stones…now it is our turn to take the hand of another and help them over the stepping stones. What an amazing privilege. All built upon our own tears and the deaths of our loved ones.
Together We Walk the Stepping Stones
by Barb Williams
Come, take my hand, the road is long.
We must travel by stepping stones.
No, you’re not alone. I’ve been there.
Don’t fear the darkness. I’ll be with you.
We must take one step at a time.
But remember, we may have to stop awhile.
It’s a long way to the other side
And there are many obstacles.
We have many stones to cross.
Some are bigger than others.
Shock, denial, and anger to start.
Then comes guilt, despair, and loneliness.
It’s a hard road to travel, but it must be done.
It’s the only way to reach the other side.
Come, slip your hand in mind.
What? Oh, yes, it’s strong.
I’ve held so many hands like yours.
Yes, mine was once small and weak like yours.
Once, you see, I had to take someone’s hand
In order to take the first step.
Oops! You’ve stumbled. Go ahead and cry.
Don’t be ashamed. I understand.
Let’s wait here awhile so that you can get your breath.
When you’re stronger, we’ll go on, one step at a time.
There’s no need to hurry.
Say, it’s nice to hear you laugh.
Yes, I agree, the memories you shared are good.
Look, we’re halfway there now.
I can see the other side.
It looks so warm and sunny.
On, have you noticed? We’re nearing the last stone
And you’re standing alone.
And look, your hand, you’ve let go of mine.
We’ve reached the other side.
But wait, look back, someone is standing there.
They are alone and want to cross the stepping stones.
I’d better go. They need my help.
What? Are you sure?
Why, yes, go ahead. I’ll wait.
You know the way.
You’ve been there.
Yes, I agree. It’s your turn, my friend . . .
To help someone else cross the stepping stones.
During the month of August I again stood next to a deathbed. It was next to the deathbed of one of our patients.
I was touched by the absolute outpouring of love from the family to the patient. I have seen it at almost every single deathbed I have stood next to…. The second death I ever witnessed was weeks before my mother-in-law died. My Mother-in-Law was in a hospital. The lady opposite her was dying and moved into a dying-room. I was allowed to sit with her. I prayed for her and tried to comfort her. I spoke to her almost non-stop for 11 hours. In the evening her husband came to visit. He was not told that his wife was dying by the hospital staff…
“What is wrong with my wife?” he asked
“She is very ill” I said
“When will she come home?” she asked.
“You must speak to the staff” I said
“They say nothing” he said
“Your wife is dying… I am so sorry.”
I know it was not my place to tell this poor man that his wife was dying. But, if I hadn’t he would have had to live with the fact that hours after visiting hours were over, she died… He got to say goodbye.
I sat with the woman until she died. She was petrified of death. I could see that they were indigent people. Poorer than poor.
She knew she was dying. She was desperately trying to stay alive. Trying to console and calm her I asked her whether she was scared. She nodded. I asked her whether she was worried about something. Again she nodded. I asked her whether she was worried about her children. She again nodded.
In the heat of the moment I promised her I would help her husband look after her children… I made a deathbed promise.
The next day I tried to get her family’s contact details from the hospital. They refused to give it to me.
I have had to live with the fact that I promised a dying woman that I would take care of her children and that I broke that promise.
Extravagant promises to dying loved ones often pose an ethical conflict, defined as when opposing acts each fulfil an ethical value, but neither can achieve both. The situation also arises when one is tempted to lie to dying friends and loved ones out of kindness. A mother and daughter are involved in a fatal car accident; the daughter is dead, the mother is dying. “Is our daughter all right?” the fading mother asks her husband.
In such a case, it is reasonable and ethical to conclude that the kind answer, “Yes,” is more ethical than the truthful answer, “No.” A promise to a dying loved one may be an exception to the usual rule that it is unethical to make a promise one cannot or will not fulfil.
Often ridiculous and selfish promises are coerced from the loved ones standing next to a death bed. When we stand there we promise freely…we want to give the dying person that final peace of mind.
A classic example of a deathbed promise made in good faith is depicted in the black comedy “Where’s Poppa?” In this movie, the son promises his father, he would never place his senile mother in a home… At the time it was a reasonable promise but becomes increasingly more difficult to keep as the mother becomes more demented and senile. The vicious woman destroys every aspect of his life….
“Promises openly and freely made on the initiative of a dying individual’s loved one are true commitments. Promises coerced by a dying friend or relative and made out of kindness or guilt, on the other hand, should be re-evaluated at a less emotion-charged time. Both varieties of death-bed promises, however, create ethical obligations. They just can’t be as strong as the obligations created by promises to the living.”
I have stuck to every promise I made Vic. Many of the promises were heartbreakingly difficult to keep. Others were easy.
On Wednesday the 9th of October 2013 we had the official opening of Stepping Stone Hospice’s building.
It is one promise I was able to keep.
Grief becomes a shadow. It finds you and follows you. At times the shadow is small and then at times it is big.
Your shadow is a constant companion. It keeps up with your pace… It will run with you but it will also crawl with you. When you stop it will stop.
It follows you into the valleys of despair and will climb mountains of triumph with you. Grief is a constant companion.
When you are in the deepest valley your shadow is there. When at the heights of the highest mountain it is still there.
A shadow is a dangerous thing. If offers a wonderful hiding place. A place to lose one self. At times the shadow invites me in and I get lost in my shadow of grief. In the shadow I am invisible and no one can see my pain, my sense of loss, my loneliness. My shadow is a safe haven where I get to become one with my grief.
The boys are a light that draws me out from my shadow. Hospice and my faith is a light that draws me out from my shadow.
The grief of losing a child is not only on high days and holidays. Grief follows you on bad days, good days, every day… It gets into bed with you and awakens with you.
It even permeates your dreams.
Today it is 8 months since Vic died. Not a single day has passed that I have not been acutely aware of the shadow of grief that accompanies me on my journey. Has it become a journey of recovery? No, I doubt it. I think it is too soon. I do have better days…Then I have days where I walk into a supermarket and see Vic’s brand of deodorant or shampoo. I will put out my hand to touch a @$*# tin of deodorant and tears will well up in my eyes.
For heaven’s sake! A stupid tin of deodorant now has the ability to reduce me to tears!
Today I stood outside the Hospice building. It is nearing completion. I experienced a profound sense of achievement. Pride and satisfaction welled up in my heart but disappeared into that massive, gaping hole left by Vic’s death.
“This is because my child died” it rushed through my brain….
Of course someone would have started a Hospice. That I don’t doubt for one second. Maybe the rest of the team would have been involved. Maybe the financial backing would have been better – who knows? The fact remains that the reason I got involved is because my child died and I promised her that her death would not be futile.