Tuesday 18 August 2009

My Transformative Moment

Steven, over at his blog, The Golden Fish, had a great idea for a transformative moment post meme.

I think of my life as a journey up a hill. Like the butterfly, I have had stages in my personal growth. Each moment gave me momentum and a reformation. Each time I accomplished something, I grew a little taller. Each time I embraced change, I felt that I learned and reconfigured myself.

Giving birth, winning my first job, gaining confidence in my teaching skills, my first published article, having my very own computer, camera, and other tools - all these things helped socially, emotionally, spiritually, psychologically. Certainly, blogging from our remote location, lakeside where the winter population turns from 5-digits to three, helped me keep in touch with the world. That has transformed the frozen winter into a technological treat.

Perhaps my most transformative moment was sitting beside my father as he lay dying.

Dad’s Passing

(Click on the link for the entire chapter from my book.)
At 12:15 they came in and repositioned him, shifting his weight to his other shoulder. The Personal Support Worker (PSW) offered me tea, coffee or juice and I asked for some tea. He brought me a tray.

I held dad’s hand, rubbed his boney shoulder, rearranged his blankets and looked at his mottled hands again. I counted his breaths at 12:50 and he was breathing 7 times every ten seconds. By 1:00 a.m. he was up to eight breaths. At 1:15 I heard Cheynes-Stokes breathing. His breathing stopped for about 10 seconds or so – it was hard to tell as time stopped for me. It wasn’t upsetting at all. I sat beside him holding my breath. When he started breathing again I was upset. I didn’t know how much longer I could take this! He needed to finally be out of pain. Mom, his parents, his cats and dogs; all were waiting. I had three cups of hot tea and made several visits to the bathroom. I fell asleep around 2:30 a.m., a long night's vigil, and woke around 4:00 as the PSW returned to the room.

The PSW had been in and checked dad. His core was still warm and it hadn’t been long ago that he had passed over. I felt as if a burden was lifted from my shoulders. No more guilt, or worrying over whether I had done enough or done the right thing. I had lobbied for weeks for more pain relief, but they didn't believe that he was in pain. I knew, at least, that he had no pain after his morphine injections.

I asked what had to happen. The doctor they would call at 7:00 a.m., there was no rush. They had rounds to finish and I decided to pack up dad’s room. I couldn’t face going back there that day. They told me I had a couple of days to clean out his things, but felt awake and I didn’t want Brian to lift anything. I carefully removed his Valentine decorations from the door and the window. I went into the bathroom and through out his toiletries and other personal items. I checked his drawers, folded up my comforter, placed the family photos into the pillowcases. It was a two-step process, walking through two passcode protected doors, one floor and a locked front door! They lock the door at night and, having gotten stuck last week, I knew it was hopeless to try and figure out how to get out before the morning staff came on. The PSW came in and washed Dad’s body while I took things down to the car.

Suddenly, I knew I was an orphan. I was the matriarch. There was no one to phone with good or bad news who was older and wiser. I was it. It was a sudden, momentous time. After a time I began to deal with it all. But I was totally shocked at the sudden burden on my shoulders, as well as the liberation of being 'the good daughter', to being able to make decisions.


steven said...

hi jenn, i replied to your comment to my blog and added your piece of writing to the list of people who have very generously contributed to this opportunity. your story was very powerful for me as i have not experienced firsthand the process you describe. my mum has and was there when my dad flew away last december. she has been very kind in her frankness about the whole process as you have in this piece of writing. it has made his sudden leaving so much clearer to me. not easier but clearer. this story about your father underscored some of what she has told me. so thankyou jenn.

Bonnie said...

Jenn: What a sobering moment when you realize that you are now the matriarch of the family - the one the others will look to, the wise one, perhaps the decision maker, and probably the next to pass. You describe it so well - especially for those of us who have also experienced it.

I appreciate the courage it took to share such a private, sensitive moment at your father's death bed. Truly a transformative one.

ellen abbott said...

I am not the matriarch, my sister is. But I remember very well when I realized I was an orphan.

Jenn Jilks said...

Thank you so much. It is an excellent opportunity to see how much we share and have in common.

I desperately looked for information on the final stages of life and found little. This is why I kept a journal and published this in my book. It is not selling quickly, but it is selling. I think we all want to understand that this is a peaceful and overhwhelming process!
Thanks for stopping by.

Delwyn said...

Hello Jen

I have popped over from Steven's.
Your post has upset me, because I have just returned from NZ where I visiting my father in a rest home, frail and with a wandering mind. He has not been in there long and keeps escaping and walking home...It is an unknown road we are walking with him. My mother has been coping brilliantly at home but broke a bone in her foot so she is now having respite in the same home for a few weeks...

Thank you for your story today...
I look forward to further reads at your place

Happy days

Joanna said...

Jenn, I too have lost both my parents and when my mother died I also had a strong awareness of being an orphan and being the oldest one in my family. Being with someone when they make that transition is an honour and and challenge. You wrote about it so honestly.

Derrick said...

Hi Jenn,

A very tender and poignant experience. We probably don't think about our aging until times like this arrive.

Jenn Jilks said...

It's true, Derrick. I have thought about it and I advocate Power of Attorney, Living Wills, DNR orders, and Alternate Decision Makers on my Ontario Seniors blog. Plus, my daughter has strict instructions: when I exhibit 3 signs of dementia: put me on the raft and send me out into the lake! With a couple bottle sof wine...Quick and easy! :-)

willow said...

Thank you for sharing this very poignant transformative moment. Even though, I've not experienced this process, I've considered myself an orphan for many years.

NanU said...

Thank you, Jenn, for this touching post. Your father's passing sounds peaceful at the end.
It must be a scary thing to suddenly realize that it's your turn to be the wiser generation, but I can see you'll handle it with grace.

Eryl Shields said...

Gosh, thanks for sharing this. I had a very similar experience when my mother died in 2006 and then again last year with my mother-in-law. Both were in a great deal of pain and relief had to be fought for, both seemed to linger too long, it was both a relief and unutterably sad when each died. My husband and me are both the oldest people in our immediate families now: on the front line, as a friend described it.

Best of luck to you.

judy in ky said...

Jenn, I remember so clearly when my father died (ten years ago) how disconnected I felt. My mom is still alive, thank goodness. But, for some reason, I started thinking about all my grandparents who were gone, and now my dad. Since I have no children of my own, I kind of feel like I am dangling out here not connected to anyone, either in the past generations or in future generations. I am still very connected to my mom, so I know how strange it will feel when she is gone, too.

Titus said...

Oh jenn, thank you for sharing such a difficult moment with such clarity. Your writing was not asking for pity, it simply told us the events of that day. The realisation of the final paragraph was so telling for me though, and moved me. I congratulate you on your strength.
And on writing about the actual process of death. There is something here many people can learn from. Thanks.