Another thought triggered by Tuesdays with Morrie. I share this mostly as a warning to myself to be more in the moment the next time I experience the death of a loved one. This falls into the category of hind sight is 20/20.
A few years back, I got â€œthe call.â€ If you have ever gotten â€œthe callâ€ you know what I mean. Basically it is the recall message to return to your point of origin. Someone is dying.
My Granddad had had three bouts with cancer. This time he was in his mid-eighties and was too weak to withstand surgery, radiation, or chemo. It was his time.
His intestinal cancer had eaten through the wall of his colon and now â€œstuffâ€ was leaking into his bladder. He was septic and in a lot of pain.
I took the next flight to Denver, hooked up with my parents, and proceeded to the hospital (200 miles from Denver). When I got there, it was a bit of a shock. My Granddad was about an inch taller than me 6â€™4â€. But when I got to the hospital, he was almost unrecognizable. He had dropped to 134 lbs. He was still lucid, though he did suffer from moderate dementia.
He was glad to see me and commented that I had finally â€œfilled out.â€ The family sat around and chit chatted. Then we took out his old family album and talked about all the old pictures.
About an hour before we left, the doctor pulled my mother (his legal guardian) aside. He was receiving high doses of antibiotics and morphine. The doctor said that without surgery he would die in a week or so. He also had a mild case of pneumonia. The doctor recommended stopping the antibiotics and increasing the morphine. This would ensure a peaceful end in a day or two. My Mom discussed it with my Dad and I and this seemed like a humane approach.
They gave my Granddad the higher dose of morphine and he immediately fell asleep. He was exhausted. My mother also made â€œthe callâ€ to my aunt in California.
The next day my Aunt arrived. We all made the 200 mile trek back to the hospital. Granddad was only semi-lucid now. The morphine was making him a bit groggy and he did not always make sense. He was stoned. The pneumonia had progressed. He only had a day or so left.
The doctor came in while we were there. My Granddad was still in pain. He suggested increasing the morphine a bit more, but he said that he would probably die in the next day. My Granddadâ€™s eyes suddenly flashed complete panic. In all our discussions, nobody bothered to let him know he was dying. He just thought he was in the hospital again.
This is where everything went nutty and I regret not stepping in. My Aunt asked to see the doctor in the hall. She lit into the doctor and told him not to discuss his findings in front of my Granddad. The family would let him know what he needed to know. The doctor apologized and walked away.
When we reentered the room, my Granddad had settled down. Because of the dementia, he had forgotten the doctorâ€™s comment. The nurse administered the higher dose of morphine and my Granddad fell asleep again. My mom and aunt decided to take us home. Everyone said their goodbyes as my Granddad slept and we started to leave. The nursing staff asked if we would be back. We said tomorrow. And they looked at us with a perplexed look. I did not catch on until it was too late.
My Granddad died that night.
Hind sight is 20/20. Regret is a harsh teacher. I regret that after the doctor broke the news, I did not stay and talk with my Granddad about his own death. Although he had moderate dementia, he was not a child. He deserved to know he was dying. He deserved the right to cry and say goodbye. I regret that I did not stay by his bedside. No one should have to die alone, if it can be avoided. I should have asked the nursing staff why they looked so perplexed. Clearly they knew death was eminent.
I have so many wonderful memories of my Granddad. He was a really good man. I just wish I would have been a bit more insightful at the end.
I will know better next time.