April 17, 2001
A Nagging Undercurrent
Something that's been true of me for a while now is that sometimes I'm filled with an undercurrent of upset for a day, without being able to put a finger on why until the day's end. I know that "something" is wrong, or missing, but the front of my mind is otherwise occupied and I don't dwell on the "something" until I have time.
That was true yesterday. As the day drew to a close, I realized that what was nagging at me was that it was five years ago yesterday that I had a conference with the doctors treating my mother, and decided to let the fungal pneumonia she had contracted go untreated.
And after making that decision, I did the absolute hardest thing I've ever done in my life. I went into her hospital room and told her she was going to die. I explained the situation to her, as the doctors had explained it to me. After telling her, I found myself unable to stop weeping for a very long time. The nurses all knew what was going on, and one brought me ice water and a box of tissues. They left me alone in the conference room, to which I had escaped after realizing that my upset was not doing anything good for Mother.
They also were prepared with answers to my questions about practical things. This was at a Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and all of those centers have on staff a person whose job is dealing with issues that arise when a patient dies. The office is called the Office of Decedent Affairs, and gets its share of "decadent" jokes. But it was a godsend to me to have a person who knew the answer to questions about how to get a body back home and how death certificates were filled out.
The man in this center's office told me he was glad I had asked to meet with him, since it was always better to have the knowledge ahead of time. He said regulations were such that he was not permitted to initiate contact with family members until a death occurred, but that he was always willing to meet with families of those whose life expectancy was predicted to be short.
And I was glad to get the information, and to get a head start answering the questions that would be asked. In the ensuing days, I made some preliminary funeral plans, and wrote Mother's obituary. I wanted to make sure I got it right, since this isn't something where a redo is acceptable behavior. It also gave me something useful to do in the face of all the helplessness.
I've written some before about the events, and will probably write more about them in the days to come.